Sunday, August 26, 2018

Into the Sands, A Treatise on the Tehir People, by Radeek Andoran

Into the Sands...A Treatise on the Tehir People, by Radeek Andoran

**This writing is my own opinion and derived from my own observations, it is not to be accepted as fact nor as official documentation on the Tehir people.  The information given is either a part of what is already known of the Tehir (and published in the existing works detailing the Tehir people on the GSWiki), or extrapolated from that information.  This is by no means the only way to look at the people who live within the Sea of Fire, the Tehir**

I.  The Basics

The Tehir, or Tih-fearee, which means He-veiled, or Speaker of the veil in their language, reside in the Sea of Fire, a very inhospitable desert region east of Vornavis, south of Mestanir and Jantalar, West of Hendor, and north of Seareach.  Technically the Sea of Fire is within the borders of the County of Seareach, but it has yet to be conquered by Imperial forces; the elements are hard on both man and beast and the Tehir are fiercely independent and fight for that independence and freedom.

The Tehir are a war-like nomadic tribal society, with numerous sects and/or clans.  The Tehir are known for their ferocity in combat and some of the clans tend to war incessantly with each other.  They are also known to ride the Yierka, a denizen of the Sea of Fire, into combat, using them in a fashion similar to cavalry and warhorses.

There is really no way to say that Tehir "do this, or do that" since each clan/tribe has its own practices and it's own rites; the Tehir are a varied people, however, all are expert at one thing... surviving in what is probably the MOST inhospitable area of Elanthia, the Sea of Fire.

The Tehir have no written language, therefore, the history of the Tehir people is verbal, passed down through the ages by way of song and tale.  As such, the written history of the Tehir has been done by the Empire and is recent; the Tehir were "discovered" in the Sea of Fire in the year 4486 by the Hendorans.

The origins of the Tehir and how they came to be in the Sea of Fire has long been a mystery, and is very open to interpretation.  It is obvious that they are not indigenous to the Sea of Fire, but have somehow managed, through determination, perseverance, and strength of will, to thrive there.  They are a hearty people who value their history and their autonomy, and, as the Imperials have found out, are willing to fight to keep it.  If the Tehir were to unite as one, against the Imperial forces, I believe they could win against the Imperials and become free and independent; but the Tehir are notoriously secular and tribal in nature and war as much between their clans as they do against the Empire.

II.  Where do the Tehir Come From? 

(This is MY opinion; it is in no way officially supported or substantiated, and may be highly controversial)

There are a number of Tehir "zamads", or, as we know them, sonnets, that mention a great evil power which drove the Tehir from their home and into the Sea of Fire, many, many years ago.  Upon studying these songs I am convinced that this "great evil" was none other than the being we have recently fought, the one we call Althedeus, known by the Tehir as "the Maw of the Void."  This Zamad, to my knowledge, is the oldest human reference to the being of Shadow, bringing to light the exciting possibility that the Tehir may well be the oldest branch of humanity…perhaps among the first of the race of man.

This excerpt, from a traditional Tehir zamad, spells it out better than any other:

Three on three, small moon so red
Left the wood, once fertile bed
Years they walked, 'cross mountain's crag
Til she turned, to withered hag.

Noontide burned, the withered flesh
As they went, to north and west
Sun did set, 'cross darkened face
Stop they did, in land of waste.

Six on nine, no moon to see
Tired was, the family
Rest and wait, in desert's heat
Free and clear, from enemy.

Rotting wood of color green
Blood did run in the stream
Women ranting in cacophony
Such madness from the mastery

Wooded respite destroyed in spite
Potsherds splintered trunks with might
When the ghost chose to fight
He laid us to waste with a wight

Five on five, the master said
No more Tehir in my bed
Water gushing with our dead
For their lives they had fled

Into the sea
Out of the cold
Our people fled
The old green way

And now our people
Of golden desert

We tend our goats
We serve no one
The Tehir tribes
Called godless ones

And our old people
Fled to fields of green

They watch our ways
From far away
Those evil spirits
Of our dead seeds.

You will note the reference to "the fertile wood", and "the wooded respite"; the ancient forest of Wyrdeep is south and east of the Sea of Fire and it is in that direction from whence the Tehir came, as well as having a mountainous region between the two, and of course the reference to stopping in "the land of waste", an obvious reference to the Sea of Fire.

I am of the opinion, from reading these tales and comparing the information to the maps of the known region that the Tehir originally came from the Elder Forest known as Wyrdeep.  What they did there, or any relationships or power they had in that forest is unknown and only supposition; but the evidence clearly states from what direction they travelled to reach the Sea of Fire, and that evidence points directly to Wyrdeep.

It should also be noted that a very large forested area exists even further to the southeast of the Sea of Fire.  Just to the west of the Elvin city of Ta'Nalfein is a very large tract of forest.  The possibility exists that the Tehir originated there, but I am of the opinion that Wyrdeep is the more likely place of origin of the Tehir; had the Tehir originated that close to the elves, I believe there would be some elfish lore to corroborate this, and I have yet to find any, though a lack of written records does not preclude the possibility of this.

The reference to "godless ones", which most of the Tehir believe themselves to be, could just as easily refer to a battle, long ago, with the being known to us as Althedeus, since as we have recently seen and experienced, the Lords and Ladies of Lornon and Liabo seemed incapable of lending any sort of assistance to the fight, hence, in essence, making us all "godless" for a time.

If, as I am assuming, the Tehir originated long ago, in Wyrdeep, then the entire question of the Tehir practices of "Seeing" and the use of blood magic makes much more practical sense, since it has been insinuated that blood magic is an ancient practice, perhaps even more ancient than humanity itself.  Quite a number of Tehir are practitioners of blood magic and the gift of sight is strong in many.  I am of the opinion that this may be due to the innate magical nature of Wyrdeep and might have become an integral part of the Tehir bloodlines due to their origination there.

The Tehir, due to their relatively recent discovery, are largely an unknown people to the outside world.  Their own history, and indeed, even their language, is kept secret from outsiders and very few of the Tehir themselves are well versed in their entire cultures story.  Certain Tehir elders, known by many different names and titles within the various tribes, are responsible for keeping the ancient lore alive, each generation teaching the next, in an unbroken line back to their beginnings.  However, odds being what they are, I am sure that there have been unexpected losses among the loremasters and some of the history has been lost due to this.

Historically speaking, I believe the Tehir are far older than the Empire itself, otherwise, they would have been "discovered" far sooner.  I am of the opinion that the Tehir may well be the oldest of the "modern" Humans, and that they have resided within the scorching heat of the desert wasteland, unknown to any until very recently, for millenia.

III.  The Trials of Manhood

Some clans of the Tehir (but most definitely not all) practice The Trials of Manhood, a testing procedure used to determine the strength and character of the young males of a clan or tribe.  These trials vary in number and difficulty as well as the age when the young male begins these trials.  Some of these trials are extremely demanding and young men undergoing some of the more "barbaric" trials have been severely injured, or even killed.

**I have listed here some of the trials of one particular band of Mir'sheq Tehir.  Please keep in mind that not all Tehir use the trials of manhood, and of those that do, the type, number, and duration of the trials varies greatly from clan to clan.  This is by no means a comprehensive listing of the trials, not do I wish to convey the idea that this is a commonplace practice among the Tehir, since we know so little about them as a whole.**

Trial One---Trial of Lore (Biedi Tih-fearee)

          Tehir history and lore are kept verbally, there are no written records known to exist.  Each Tehir is taught the histories of their people from a very early age, passed down verbally from generation to generation.  During this trial, it is required to recite these histories to the Master of Lore.  This is usually an elder Tehiri male, selected for this position for his knowledge of the lore of his clan.  He is a member of the Elder Council of Males.  It is his responsibility to teach the clan history and to judge during this trial how well the young male has remembered and told the histories.  It should be noted that it is possible that the master of lore of a particular clan of Tehir will also be a woman, normally a seer, mage, or empath of great power and high status. 

Trial Two---Trial of Water (Biedi Qorit)

          Water is the lifeblood of the Tehir; being predominantly desert people water is everything to them.  Conservation of water is paramount.  During this trial, the young male is given one gourd of water, which must last him for 4 days.  During this time, the young male is required to sit within a circle on the outskirts of camp, there to remain for four days.  He has no contact with anyone, except his mother (or another female should the males mother not be available due to death or some other reason), who may bring him food.  This food is of a dry and preserved nature.  Dried meat, fruit, grains, and bread are the common foods.  No fresh fruits or any other food that may contain liquids are allowed.

Trial Three---Trial of Fasting (Biedi Iodiz)

          During this trial, a Tehir male undergoes forced starvation for a period of at least 12 days.  The male may be given small sips of water after 2 days of total abstinence from anything passing his lips.  This trial ends only when the male begins hallucinating.  There have been cases of males passing out, never regaining consciousness, and dying without ever having hallucinated.  This is considered an evil omen and in these cases, the male's corpse is burned without any form of service and his name is forever stricken from the verbal histories of the clan; it is as if he had never been born.  Immediately upon hallucinating the male undergoes the Trial of the Godless.     

Trial Four---Trial of the Godless (Duri Teuriz)

          This is one of the more important and sacred rituals of the Tehir Trials of Manhood.  It is during this trial, while the male is still hallucinating from the Trial of Fasting that he receives his spirit totem.  This is one of the only ceremonies in which the women are the sole participants.  No males are present, save the one undergoing the trials.  It is during this trial that the Seer of the clan, always a woman of great mystical powers, performs a ritualistic scrying and interprets the hallucinations of the male to determine the spirit totem of the male.  This trial, upon completion, will also grant the male two marks, or talismans; one for the completion of the ritual, and another, denoting the spirit totem that is now part of the male.  Although extremely rare, there have been cases where males receive no spirit.  These young men are considered extremely powerful, are immediately removed from the trials, and undergo rigorous training to become shaman or healers.  Of the clans that do the Trials of Manhood, this is the only case in which males have a high status that is not based upon completion of the various trials.  It should also be noted that rarely males would change spirits later in life.  Though uncommon at best, it is neither looked down upon nor challenged, as men are assumed to know their own hearts better than anyone.  

Trial Five---Trial of Life (Biedi Rievi)

          Trial Five, the Trial of Rievi (Life) is more of an instructive trial rather than a practical one.  During this trial, which is normally given by the young mans father, or another close relative or family friend if the young man's father is deceased or otherwise not around, the young male is taught the ways of marriage and responsibility to family, clan, and Tehir.  This covers everything the young male needs to be a good husband and provider to his future family.  It is also during this trial that young men are introduced to women.  The Tehir believe that for a man to be truly happy it is of paramount importance that his mate be happy with him, in all things. 

Trial Six---Trial of Weapons (Biedi Takouba)

          It is at this time in a young Tehir's life that he must choose his chosen weapon(s).  Most young men already have a preference at this stage in their lives so this Trial is actually more about advanced training in the chosen weapon, or weapons.  Being that Tehir are quite warlike this training will obviously be intense and take a considerable amount of time.  This trial will actually continue throughout the other trials so long as the young man continues to improve or is not maimed or killed during training (which is not uncommon). 

Trial Seven---Trial of Flora (Biedi Ahmdir)

          It is in this stage that knowledge of plants in the Sea of Fire is taught.  The properties of edible, medicinal, dangerous or poisonous, and even hallucinogenic plants are learned.  The Tehir male is expected to become an expert in all of these.  There have been incidents where males are poisoned deliberately and required to seek and make use of the antidote in order to pass this Trial; failure means death.

Trial Eight---Trial of Fauna (Biedi Zirtziez)

          This stage covers all fauna in the Sea of Fire.  It is accompanied by much practical application.  The Tehir male learns what to eat, how to kill it, and even how best to prepare it.  This Trial also covers the all-important knowledge of how best to dispatch dangerous or aggressive animals; the dispatching of a very dangerous beast, alone, denotes normal passage of this trial.  As such, there are numerous injuries or fatalities associated with this task.

Trial Nine---Trial of Sand (Biedi Zome)

          The Trial of Sands is ninth trial.  The male is required to spend three weeks alone in the desert, putting the skills learned in the previous Trials to the test.  The Tehir male may take any gear he believes he will require, but no food or water. 

Trial Ten---Trial of Silence (Biedi Ti'iz)

          Upon completion of the Trial of Sands the Tehir male returns to his clan, but may speak to no one, nor be spoken to, nor even acknowledged.  It is as if he doesn't exist.  It is said this derives from the ancient custom of making sure the returned one is not an evil spirit in human form.  Ten days is the normal length of this Trial. 

Trial Eleven---Trial of Trading (Biedi In-gtomtei)

          This is another trial that is more instruction rather than practical application.  All Tehir males must be considered worthy traders, since, in some clans of Tehir, their lifestyle revolves around the ability to trade.  Young Tehir men learn the values associated with certain raw materials and finished goods.  They are also instructed in the art of bargaining from a position of power.

Trial Twelve---Trial of Deception (Biedi Fiier Luazh)

          Also derived from ancient Tehiri custom, this trial is extremely devious in nature.  It is during this trial that the male is sequestered from the rest of the camp and visited by only males of the clan.  Each male visitor will give the young male a series of statements.  At the end of the day, the young male is required to tell which of these statements are true, and which are false.  This is to give the male an understanding of the nuances of truth or lie, an important trait among the Tehir, especially when dealing with outsiders.  This trial will last until the headman of the clan believes the young male has a good grasp on human nature, intuition, body language and has the ability to tell truth from falsehood. 

Trial Thirteen---Trial of Moon (Biedi Lekem)

          This trial is all about sleep deprivation.  The young male will be kept awake for as long as possible, by any means necessary.  The normal length of time is six days.  Most young men who fail this test do so voluntarily, as it is extremely difficult to remain awake more than four days.  There have been cases where young men have been able to go more than six days, but these are rare indeed, and the young men who accomplish this feat are highly valued as potential scouts.       

Trial Fourteen---Trial of Stealth (Biedi Morduska)

          Since Tehir are great believers in raiding it is necessary that they be stealthy people.  This trial sees the young man undergo rigorous training in the arts of camouflage and concealment (hence being named for the Morduska), as well as the setting up and following thru on ambushes and attacks.  Silent movement and stillness are taught as well as silent and efficient killing.  It is also at this phase of the trials that the young Tehir learns the art of tracking, and the art of deception to avoid being tracked (including the laying of false trails to confuse the tracker).

Trial Fifteen---Trial of Truth (Biedi Utofi Huieb)

          The young Tehir male who reaches this point in his training is already considered a valuable asset to his clan.  It is during this trial that the young male goes into the desert, with all he believes himself to need, and has a period of self-reflection.  The Tehir believe that honesty to ones-self is paramount and this trial is a test of this.  The Tehir male returns of his volition and is immediately escorted to the tribal elders area within the camp.  It is then required that the male explain their triumphs and their shortcomings in the previous trials.  Honesty is the test here, and the elders are the gauges.  Any male found to be embellishing or stretching the truth, or who is not sufficiently honest in their faults, is immediately finished with their trials and will proceed no further.

Trial Sixteen---Trial of the Sun (Biedi Zom)

          While a large number of Tehir find at least a minimal religious affinity with the sun it also represents death to those who live within the Sea of Fire.  This Trial sees the young man turned out of the clan, naked and alone.  For at least four weeks, the young man will survive in the desert, utilizing all the previously learned skills.  This trial causes a lot of fatalities and is generally considered one of the more difficult of the trials, and is a prelude to the Trial of Stamina. 

Trial Seventeen---Trial of Observation (Biedi Rome-fizum)

          For this trial, the young man will be sent to observe a neighboring clan.  This is done with stealth and cunning.  The object is to gain as much information as possible on the clan being observed without being seen or caught.  The young Tehir will then report with all information garnered.  While the young man is on this trial, a small group of seasoned Raiders will also be observing both the camp and the young Tehir male.  Notes will then be compared upon return and the success or failure of this Trial is determined by how close these two reports are.

Trial Eighteen---Trial of Leadership (Biedi Zori Huieb)

          It is during this Trial that the young Tehir male will accompany the various clans' elders in their day-to-day duties.  These include the Headman, Master of the Desert, Master of Horses, Master of Raiding, Master of Weapons, Master Shaman, Master Healer, as well as the various other clan leaders.  Tehir who complete this trial may eventually become leaders in their own right.

Trial Nineteen---Trial of Raiding (Biedi Teddir)

          During this Trial, the young Tehir must plan, organize, gather intelligence, and execute a raid against a neighbouring clan.  Normally this will not be a warlike raid.  Bridal raids are common as are raids against livestock.  Also, if the young Tehir has shown exceptional aptitude a slave raid may be assigned.  Only young men who complete this trial may become Masters of Raiding within their clan and failure to achieve and complete this trial does not preclude Tehir from being raiders or leading raids, only from being Masters of Raiding in their clan.

Trial Twenty---Trial of Stamina (Biedi Vur)

          During this trial, the young male undergoes a test of endurance and fortitude.  This by far the longest and most difficult trial the young man will undergo.  It is a culmination of all previously learned knowledge.  It is during this trial that the young man is once again turned out into the desert, naked and alone.  The difference between this trial and the Trial of the Sun is this lasts much longer and the young Tehir has a list of tasks that must be completed.  These may include hunting a dangerous beast, blazing a trail, making a suitable weapon and clothing, etc.  This trial has been known to last up nine months.  During this time, the raiders from the young Tehirs clan will be hunting him.  If he is caught, he fails this trial. 

Trial Twenty-One---Trial of Blood (Biedi Keke, sometimes referred to as the Trial of Pain)

          Not all of the various clans of the Tehir who use the Trials of Manhood subscribe to this particularly barbaric trial.  This Trial is all about accepting pain as a part of life, both physical and emotional pain, and being able to continue to resist, even while being tortured.  While each clan has different practices regarding this ritual, all have one thing in common, mercy is for the weak, and only the strong continue.  I will not dwell on some of the more gruesome practices inflicted upon the young men undergoing this Trial since they vary from clan to clan and also from trial candidate to candidate.  This trial also instructs the young man in the use of pain for gaining information from an individual, i.e. the use of torture.  While not an accepted practice among the more "civilized" peoples of Elanthia, the Tehir have been perfecting the art of torture for generations, and some clans have achieved such a notoriety that enemies of those clans have been known to kill themselves rather than be captured and subjected to torture at their hands. 

Trial Twenty-Two---Trial of sight (Biedi Golbuir Fiier, loosely translated into common, Riding the Veil)

          This Trial, the last, may or may not be performed; it is reserved for individuals who have completed the previous twenty-one trials.  It is only performed on those young men who have been deemed exceedingly gifted, or even troubled, in some form.  Generations of Tehir men have undergone the twenty-one trials and it could be decades, or perhaps even a century or more before a young Tehir is deemed worthy, or perhaps in need, of this trial.  During this trial, the young man is subjected to the use of hallucinogenic drugs, derived from native plants, and/or animals, to induce a trance-like state.  The individual will then normally have a vision and will describe said vision to the elders and the most powerful female Seer of the clan.  This vision may be of the past, present, or future and will determine the status of the young male in the clan hierarchy.  It should be noted that any young man who completes this Trial is undeniably gifted in the eyes of the Tehir, and perhaps even one to be feared.  There are known cases of the young men being banished, or even killed after this Trial, though both are quite rare.  A clan which has a young man within its ranks who completes this Trial is given great honour and status, even among other clans, and the parents of the young men are honoured as well, for it is they who raised the young man properly and gave him the strength to complete this task.

After completion of the Trials of Manhood, no matter how far the individual progressed, they are forever considered Men of the Tehir, with all responsibilities and benefits associated with this status.  They are free to marry and to have a family; they are allowed to raid and to have possessions.  It should be noted however that most material wealth within the Tehiri family is brought and owned by the wife.  The husband, while his status is important and noted, normally assumes the status of his wife.  There are exceptions to this, especially when dealing with a male or female of extremely high or excessively low status.

IV.  Blood Magic and the Tehir

The Tehir are known practitioners of the art of Blood Magic, and have been for millennia, some of the more skilled mages being quite powerful.  Different sects of Tehir may call their Blood Mages by different names, but most would consider them to be on par with Shaman, and each blood mage is normally also skilled in the art of divination, or Seeing.

While blood magic itself is neither good nor evil, the power of the calling can be quite strong and using the art for what would normally be considered evil can be hard to avoid; it has always been easier to destroy than to create.

Some of the more powerful Tehir Seers use the power of blood as a means of focus, increasing their power substantially, enabling some to do astounding things.  However, they can, and do, use the power of blood, either their own or someone else's, to perform feats of power that can be similar in effect to elemental and/or spiritual magic, but which uses only the power of blood and the will of the mage.

Power such as this can be nearly limitless, seemingly dependent solely on the skill and the willpower of the mage.  It should be noted however, that the mage can very easily over-step the upper limit of their willpower threshold, normally resulting in the death of the mage; blood magic, though very powerful, is equally unforgiving when it comes to failure.

It is my belief that the Tehir learned of Blood Magic when they were denizens of the Wyrdeep Forest, very, very long ago.  Blood Magic seems to me to be an appropriate form of magic for that particular forest, due to its innate magical nature and relative mysteriousness in relation to the areas we know of.

I believe that Blood Magic was at one time a VERY common practice among the ancient ones who inhabited the lands before the current age.  In fact, I believe it is far older than any other form of magic that we know of, and we are only beginning to hear of its existence due to our battle with the being known as Althedeus, who, as I stated earlier, I believe to be responsible for the Tehir being in the Sea of Fire to begin with.

V.  The Gift of Sight

Many Tehir are known to be powerful Seers, the gift of sight is very strong in some.  This is an innate ability in some Tehir, the use of Blood Magic is required for others to exercise this power. 

The Gift of Sight is not an exact science; it is more a matter of interpreting the sometimes-vague images.  Some Tehir do not believe in the gift at all, and call these visions the ramblings of a lunatic, making the Seer subject to banishment in some cases.

Other clans of Tehir greatly respect their Seers, granting them extremely high status.  Their visions are sought after and very important decisions may rest upon the definition given of the vision.

Some Tehir believe the gift of sight resides within the bloodlines of the Seers ancestors.  Literally, generations of the same lineage of Tehir have been powerful Seers.  It should be noted that, especially recently, most of the known powerful Seers of the Tehir are also skilled practitioners of the art of Blood Magic.

To be added to as I get time - The Author

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Tehir Chronicles, Part 6, Past Tense Portents

The largest of the moons is low on the horizon and a deep sanguine, the colour of fresh blood on a sacrificial dagger.  An ill moon to anyone but a Spiritcaller, a good omen for what he must do this night.

Strangely, his shadow appears, faint at first, then brighter, and it begins to dance across the sand.  He looks up at the light as it streaks across the night sky, leaving a luminescent trail in its wake, a sure sign that death walks upon the desert this night.

He does not fear the signs, as others do; they have been a part of him since his earliest memories.  He is a Seer and Spiritcaller, a Bloodmage of the Tehir, reading the portents is his purpose.  The call of the Blood is strong within him, and the visions appear without effort behind his eyes.  His sacrifices have been for his people; the power he has gained is incidental, a means to an end. 

Eight days ago, in the middle of the day, the sun slowly disappeared from the sky, devoured by a slow moving darkness, and the desert took on the appearance of late evening.  People ran in circles, screaming, panicked and afraid for their lives.  He rushed from his tent and gazed up at the sky in wonder.  He had heard of such events from his teachers, but had never witnessed anything so awe-inspiring before. 

As quickly as it began, it was over.  Day returned and it was as if it had never been gone.  His clan looked to him for answers, but, for now, he had none.  All he could do was re-assure them that all is as it should be…if only that cold feeling running up and down his spine would go away.

Incense sticks planted firmly in the sand around him, he sits cross-legged inside his tent, meditating for clarity of thought and searches deep in his memory for the lessons he had been taught.  Suddenly his eyes open and he knows what he must do.

He glances at a sun-streaked leather satchel that sits at the foot of his sleeping mat.  The satchel, still serviceable after all these years, has been passed down to him from those of his line who have gone before, a lineage of powerful Spiritcallers, unbroken for many generations. 

A stray thought crosses his troubled mind…how many more generations will carry this satchel.  How much more must his line sacrifice for the good of the people?  Quickly, he dismisses such thinking from his mind, he does not need the distraction, especially now.

The satchel contains all the tools of his trade, ritual daggers for bloodletting, consecrated bowls, small sacks, vials, and flasks containing various items used to empower and ease his forays into the other realms.  There are also meditation mats and prayer rugs, boxes, crystals, bowls, sands, and cards, all used to divine the future.  There are also the items of protection, the precious salt and the various earths and herbs…and the water, the life of his people.

This is his last day of fasting; he is nearly ready to begin.  He runs the blade of his dagger through the flickering flames of the small fire burning before him, allowing them to lick at the metal of the blade, completing the purification ritual.

He stands and removes a small vial of blood from his satchel and, turning slowly, allows the blood to steadily pour onto the sand, creating a circle of protection; he then does the same thing with an opalescent jar of sea salt, reinforcing the circle, empowering it.

Slowly he takes the dagger and makes a cut across his left bicep and the blood runs freely down his arm, dripping into the sand.  He then makes three small cuts on the back of his left hand and it is this blood that he dabs the fingers of his right hand in and paints three lines down each cheek and one across his forehead.

Sitting down once more, he begins chanting, in the language of his people.

The Blood of Life I have within me
A Life of Power is my destiny
Power of Blood allow me to see

My Will gives Direction
My Soul grants Protection
My Heart is the Connection

Slowly, images form in his mind.  He sees fire and smoke, pain and death.  He hears the cries of the vanquished, he feels the pain of the wounded, and he knows the void is near.  All of this comes from the interlopers, those who desire copper and conquest above all else.  He senses that they will not stop; they will never be satisfied until all of the Tehir are under their yoke of dominion.

The vision clouds, and then clears once more.  There is smoke, fire, and something else.  It is…death.  He sees a hooded figure, garbed in robes of crimson.  The figure approaches quickly and he sees eyes, eyes of twilight grey swirled with viridian.  The figure pulls the hood back and he sees it is a woman, a Tehir woman, black of hair and tall, breathless but calm of demeanour.

"The Interlopers are known as The Tyramzyrrian Empire," she says to him.  "They are after our copper and want to enslave us.  It seems there is nothing we can do to stop them; our elders refuse to unite, but you must resist them."

She glances over he shoulder and hastily continues.

"Time is short, Old One," she says.  "You should know that your lineage will continue, long after you have returned to the sands that bore you."

"I will bear the burden of our line," she continues, "as will my son after me, though he will deny it for many years.  We can be nothing more, nothing less.  May you walk with the sun."

As the vision is fading, he sees the grey-eyed woman, with a young boy at her side, is wearing a satchel over her shoulder, and, though a bit more faded and worn, he sees that it is his satchel, and he is left to wonder who this woman and her son are, or more appropriately, who they will be.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Tehir Chronicles, Part 5, The Seeds of Greed

The hammers ring, their sound emanating from the open sided tent.  The smiths work hard, bending the metal to their will, making beautiful things out of what was once an ugly ore.  The huge muscles of their arms ripple with each swing of the hammer and sweat glistens on their nearly hairless heads, making them shine in the light of the fire of the forge.

The metal they work with is as close to being holy as anything can be to these people, and the smiths are revered within their society.  These skilled craftsmen and women transform a raw ore to a beautiful ornamentation, destined to adorn a member of their society, in a matter of days.

Copper is the name of the metal, and the smiths train for years to learn the nuances of it and the secrets of their craft.  Many generations ago, this particular clan of people were fortunate enough to discover a vein of rich ore, and since then they have become known as masters of the art of crafting copper; turning it into items of necessity, like pots, or fine jewelry.

Many other clans trade for the copper items made by this clan so they are rarely in need of anything; their craftsmanship is such that they are known throughout this harsh desert land as some of the best at what they do.

Unfortunately, to be the best at something can have its own notoriety, and word sometimes reaches unwelcome ears and brings unwanted attention…

"Why are we here?"  I say to no one in particular, as I gaze up into the sky with its merciless sun.  I take a long drink from my canteen, but it does little to quench my thirst; I always feel thirsty here.

Day sixty-eight since we left the comfort and relative safety of the outpost at the edge of this land, forsaken by all but scorpions and vultures, and there is no end in sight to our expedition.  "Riches abound here," we were told.  "The people are a primitive race of nomads who fight so much amongst each other that they won't be able to mount an effective resistance against heavily armored knights."

So far, over half of the expedition is dead; one hundred and six out of our original two hundred men have been lost.  The morale of the rest of us has been in a steady decline since our commander was eaten alive by a huge beast that lives beneath the sand; it resembled one of those great animals of the sea that moves through the water on wings, rather as a bird does through the air.  One minute he was there, the next, he was gone, a single scream echoing across the dunes to announced his passing. 

Every day more men die, either from the heat, or one of the multitude of deadly desert creatures that inhabit this wasteland or, as has been becoming more and more common in the last week, men just come up missing.  There is never any sign of anyone having been in camp, yet each morning someone fails to answer morning muster and, upon searching, we find them, staked out in the sand a short distance from camp.

Some we find with their throats cut, the sand greedily drinking their blood.  Others…well, let's just say I certainly don't want to pass through Lorminstras gates in that fashion, nor would I wish that manner of passing on my worst enemy.

No matter how they died, they all have one thing in common.  Copper.  A circle of raw copper ore has been laid out around the body.  It is almost as if they are teasing us with its presence; after all, it's what we came here to get.  

We are now following a trail.  The tracks we follow are from some great beast that the natives use as mounts; a terrifying creature, I have never seen the like of it anywhere else in my travels.  I also find it very unsettling to be following this trail, since there was no trail before, and it just seems to have appeared before us. 

Our acting commander, the brother of a rich merchant who is about as qualified to lead us as some trollop from a brothel, thinks it's good fortune and that we shall soon be upon these natives and then we will give them a taste of our steel.

As dusk approaches, we settle in at the base of a large series of dunes; there is certainly no shortage of sand here, and it gets into everything, your clothes, and the food, even the water we drink is tainted with it.  I swear, if I get out of here alive I'll live in a place where everything is green all the time; I am so sick of the brown of the sand.

I am awoken sometime in the middle of the night by cries of warning.  I exit my small tent, which I share with two other soldiers, and, as I rub the sleep from my eyes, I look up at the top of the dunes.  There I see dozens of people, all bearing torches and dressed in a similar fashion, a loosely worn, robe-type of garment that covers them from shoulder to foot, with long sleeves.  Upon their heads they wear a sort of cloth covering that seems to be wound around their head numerous times and covers all but their eyes.

We quickly form a defensive square, the butts of our spears braced into the sand to defend against a charge by the enemy; we are already on the defensive, the enemy holds the high ground.

We hold our position until dawn, the enemy has not moved; they haven't even made a sound.  Our commander is asking for volunteers to go out and talk to them.  I think he should volunteer himself, and, in my own stupidity, I say so, just a little too loudly.

He hears me, turns, and looks at me, then he thanks me for volunteering, and he assures me I will be given a fine burial.  Well, I suppose I could have declined, and then he would have made it an order.  At least this way I am choosing the manner of my own death.

I unbuckle my sword belt, drop all my weapons upon the sand, and step from the square, slowly walking up the dunes towards what I believe to be my end.  I get about three quarters of the way up when one of their number steps out from among the rest.  He hands a wicked looking sword to another of his party then moves to stand apart from the rest, his arms at his side, palms facing me.

I approach to perhaps five paces from him and I stop.  Our eyes meet, each of us sizing up the other.  He says something, in a very foreign tongue, guttural and harsh, and another of his party hands him a water-bag.

He holds the water-bag out to me, his eyes never leaving mine.  I warily cross the distance between us and accept it.  I take a drink, it is surprisingly cool and crisp, and I hand it back.  He does the same and then passes the water-bag back to the one who gave it to him.

He then motions and the line of people parts to allow his passage.  Obviously, he wants me to follow, but I hesitate.  My fear is real; my stomach is doing flips.  But eventually my curiosity wins out and I follow him. 

As soon as I am by, the gap in the line closes and they charge down the slope of the dune, into the defenders.  Angered and surprised by this turn of events, I turn to re-join my comrades but the leader grabs my arm, his grip like iron, and turns me around to face him.  His eyes bore into mine as he shakes his head in the negative.  Four more of his men, weapons drawn, surround me to make sure I keep my place.

I can hear the battle raging below my position; the screams of the vanquished and the cries of the victorious mingle with the sounds of metal clashing against metal.  Soon, all that can be heard is the whimpers of the mortally wounded and faint pleas of mercy in my own language.  It is obvious who won this battle.

The leader studies me intently for what seems like an eternity, then he escorts me back to the top of the dune, raises his arm, points down into the pit between the dunes, and shows me the result of the battle.

None of my troop is left alive; they have been stripped naked in the sun, no shred of honor left to them.  The leader then grabs my hand and places six nodules of copper ore in it.  He taps the nodules in my hands, shakes his head emphatically NO, and points back in the direction from which we had marched, all those weeks ago.  He says something to the four men surrounding me.  They depart, returning soon with five mounts.

The four Tehir escort me to within a half days ride of my old outpost.  The entire time we traveled none of them ever spoke to me; in fact, they rarely acknowledged my existence.

Upon returning to the outpost, I was questioned at length regarding my own survival.  It was surmised that, since I had shown enough bravery to approach them unarmed, they deemed me worthy enough to bear their message, primitive though it was; I didn't have the courage to tell them that my "bravery" was actually a punishment due to my big mouth.

Their message, such as it was, was definitely received, though not in the fashion they had hoped.  Rather than having the desired effect of keeping us out of their lands, it made it all the more important for those in power to not lose face against these primitives.

Expedition after expedition was mounted against the Tehir, we wanted their copper.  Some were successful, some were not, but, over the years, we began to learn what worked and what didn't against them.  Soon they will be defeated and their copper will be ours.

The Tehir Chronicles, Part 4, First Contact

The figure stands over the body of the stranger, veil and burnoose whipping fiercely in the rapidly rising wind.  The heat, already oppressive, seems to have claimed another victim; this is the sixth one found in half as many days, all taken by the desert.  The other five were buried deep in the sand, and the lone denizen of the desert prepares to do the same with this one; it is not safe to leave bodies upon the sand, their spirits will forever wander the sands, doing evil to those still among the living.

A soft groan, more whimper than anything, emanates from the body.  Immediately the robed traveller kneels in the hot sand and checks to see just how bad off the interloper is. 

The desert dweller pulls back the protective material of the sand-hued veil, revealing her as female, with deep mahogany skin and eyes that are so dark that they appear nearly black.  She quickly and efficiently diagnoses the one lying in the sand; severe dehydration coupled with over-exposure to the heat of the desert.

She reaches under her robes and brings out a skin of water, which she uses to wet the cracked and parched lips of what is now her charge.  As she continues to diagnose her patient, she makes a thorough inspection of the individual.

Her findings puzzle her; she has never seen anyone quite like this before.  Though appearing human, the ears are slightly pointed and the features are sharp, and the individual has surprisingly pale skin, at least the skin that was covered and not badly burned by the sun. 

The person is male, with eyes of blue, hair the colour of gold reaching past the shoulders, and a light beard to match.  He wears a metallic armour made of a material she has never before seen, bearing a crest consisting of a silver oak tree on a field of blue. 

His helm is of the same material, and it is this helm, which probably led to his demise; she thinks to herself that he may as well have put his head into the flames of a fire, since wearing a metallic helm in this sun amounts to the same thing.

There is no time to further consider the man's appearance; she must get him out of the sun, or he is doomed.  She whistles, loud and shrill, and soon a great beast lumbers over the dunes towards her.  This is a yierka, and, though fearsome to behold, it is her chosen mount.

From a pannier that the beast bears, she gets a bundle.  After a few minutes of work, she has erected a sunshade and drags the man beneath it.  She begins to unbuckle the numerous straps that hold his armour on, removes it, and begins to soak his undergarments in water, trying to cool him as fast as she can.

As she works to cool the man, he wakens numerous times, delirious with the heat.  He mutters strange words in an unintelligible language; she can't consider this as she works to save his life, time is short.

Once she has him saturated, she moves on to address the badly sunburned skin of his face and hands.  As she applies a salve she had in one of her pouches, she studies his features more closely.  His age cannot be determined due to his burned and blistered skin, but she can tell he was once a handsome man, though his chances of being so again are poor, his face will be scarred for certain, if he lives.

Moving on to attend to his hands, she notices they are heavily calloused.  There is a large sword in a scabbard hanging from his belt; she assumes his hands show years of use of the weapon.

She begins to loosen his clothing to allow some air to flow to his skin and as she does so she sees has numerous scars, obviously wounds from previous battles.  This man is obviously some kind of warrior, and has been for some time.  Pity that he trained so hard for battle and so little to survive in her land; she has her doubts as to whether he will pull through.

As the sun begins to dip toward the horizon and the day ends, she continues her ministrations to the man.  She has begun giving him small sips of her precious water, trying to save his life.  Suddenly, his eyes flutter open and he begins to thrash upon the ground, convulsing. 

It is at this point she knows for certain that she won't be able to save him, she knows his convulsions are a prelude to death, the desert will claim yet another victim; all she can do is attempt to make him as comfortable as she can.

As night falls, she sits across from the man, watching his laboured breathing, knowing he will not see the dawn of a new day; there is nothing she can do for him and his strength is rapidly waning.

Who is this stranger to her land, why is he here, and where did he come from?  Why would someone who is obviously improperly trained and poorly outfitted to survive in the Sea of Fire be here at all?  More importantly, how many more of them are there? 

She continues her vigil throughout the night, holding his hand in her own, remaining with him until, shortly before dawn, he draws his last breath. 

She buries the man in the custom of her people, as she was prepared to do from the start, not wanting his spirit to wander the desert for eternity.  She keeps his helm, crafted of that strange metal and plumed with a long, bluish-green, iridescent feather, to bring back to her people, wondering if any of them have ever heard of such a people as she has encountered.

She mounts her yierka and begins the long trip home, and, though she knows nothing of the men she buried, she has a nagging feeling, deep down inside, and she knows that things will never be the same.

The Tehir Chronicles, Part 3, A Storm Is Coming

A Storm is Coming


The cool night air is in stark contrast to what will come with the dawn, just a few hours away.  She stands, naked except for a series of copper bracelets adorning each of her wrists, arms outstretched, and face raised, beckoning to the star-filled sky.  Blood runs slowly down her arms; small rivulets of the sanguine liquid slowly creep down her torso and legs, staining the sand around her feet.

Oblivious to all around her, she chants softly, the language she uses is all but unknown outside her own kind.  She is Tehir. 

Once she would have been called pretty, even beautiful, but the magic has taken its toll.  Her once coal black hair is mostly grey now, prematurely so, considering she has yet to see her thirtieth year.  She learned long ago, the greater the gift, the higher the cost.  The loss of her beauty is a small thing, however, and the power she has gained is much more valuable, and far longer lasting. 

As she continues her chanting, she raises the dagger in her right hand and makes a shallow cut just below her left breast.  The blood wells from the injury and begins to flow, combining with the already flowing blood, much as small streams join to make rivers.  The sand at her feet, greedily sucking up her blood, appears black in the feeble moonlight. 

Her body begins to slowly sway to and fro, as if to some unheard rhythm.  Her chanting suddenly ceases as her eyes open wide, staring into the darkness, strangely unfocused.  Her breath comes in ragged gasps, each one sounding more laboured than the last.  Her knees buckle and she collapses into the sand, unconscious.


She awakens, her entire body in protest, every muscle in agony.  She tries to rise but her vision grows dim and the world spins sickeningly.  For a moment, she considers that she may have gone too far this time, but the need was great; there was no other choice.  She lies back into the rapidly warming sand, drawing comfort in its familiar embrace.

After a few minutes, she decides she can probably gain her feet without too much difficulty.  Slowly, she rises, being very careful not to overdo it.  She spies her scarlet robes lying nearby in the sand, along with her satchel.  Before dressing, she hastily scrubs herself with sand, removing as much of the dried blood as she can; a bath will have to wait.

Walking unsteadily, she heads back towards the camp, much slower than she normally would.  She has to stop twice when her dizziness nearly overcomes her before she makes it to the familiar surroundings of her tent.  A cup of tea, that's what she needs, she thinks to herself, then, a bath.

She mulls over the events of the previous night as she soaks in the warm water.  Carefully cleaning each of her wounds, all self-inflicted as part of her magic, her mind catalogues each of her visions.  She remembers everything; each and every detail, no matter how small, is ingrained in her mind.

As her mind ponders the implications of what was seen she looks at the myriad of scars criss-crossing her body, each one a journey into the realm of her magic, and a single moment of regret passes through her mind.

Her fingertips lightly trace the line of a single, thin, unbroken line of scar tissue that runs from her shoulder to the inside of her wrist and she thinks to herself, "One life, traded for another; one future, denied, so that this one might come to pass; only time will tell if it was the right choice."

The clan leaders must be told of the results of her visions.  Rising from the bath, she dries herself with a soft yierka hide and dresses in clean garments, robes of scarlet, as is her station. 


Somewhat rested and restored by a light meal, she walks to the place of the meeting she has requested.  A feeling of great dread hovers over her thoughts as, one step at a time, she approaches the large tent.

She ducks slightly in order to gain entrance to the tent.  It is a large structure, perhaps twenty feet across and roughly circular in shape.  A small fire, in the center of the area and surrounded by a ring of stones, provides both heat and some light.  Numerous lamps hanging from the support poles or resting on low tables provide the rest of the needed illumination.

Each of the elder clansmen and women greet her with the utmost respect.  A few exchange a word or two, but the seriousness of the situation makes it impossible for her to continue in any conversations; her mind is utterly occupied by her visions, and the consequences about to befall her people.

As she takes her seat a cup of tea is passed to her, she nods in gratitude.  Taking a small sip, she allows her mind to wander.  Since her vision, her normally ordered mind has been in turmoil, and she finds the tea to be mildly calming, allowing her some measure of control over the images passing behind her minds eye.

She hears her name being called and her mind flies back into the present.  In one graceful motion she rises to her feet, once again becoming the woman of power, a woman to be respected and even feared.

She holds the cup of tea with both hands; she fears that her hands may begin shaking otherwise, and this is not the time to show any form of weakness.  Strength and confidence are the orders of the day.  She has done this what seems like a thousand times and she knows how to play her part well.

"The future is always upon us," she says, "just around every corner."  All eyes are upon her, waiting patiently for her to continue.

"Our past has been tumultuous, the present is difficult.  We call this Sea of Fire home.  We have, and continue to, struggle to survive here.  But, with that having been said, it is indeed our home.  No others make their home here.  It is ours, and ours alone."

She takes a small sip of her tea, as much to pause to order her thoughts as to gather the courage to say what must be said.

"Those days will soon be over," she states.  "I have seen fire in the skies and blood upon the sands."  A collective gasp arises from the group gathered.  She raises one hand and the assembled people quiet immediately.

"Others will enter our domain.  They will be clad in metal and wield blades of the same material.  They desire all that we have and they shall try and claim us as their own."

"I do not know who these invaders are, but I have seen them.  They are not as ancient as we are, they do not follow the old ways, and they do not appreciate the power of blood as we do.  Their strength is in their numbers and in their desire to conquer."

"These things I have seen, through my blood and pain," she softly says.  "We are a divided people; we will fight amongst ourselves as much as we fight the interlopers.  Due to this, victory will elude us."

"However," she begins, "if we do not fight then all will most assuredly be lost; and our people will be as slaves, our daughters and sons sold, in chains."

With that, her duty to her people done, she walks from the tent; she has brought them the vision and what they do from here is up to them.

Besides, she already knows the outcome; she has seen it… in blood.

The Tehir Chronicles, Part 2, The Scattering

The Scattering, a continuation of "Itinerant"


A new home, a sense of belonging, a new beginning, this is what the desert has brought to them.  For a people such as these there can be no sacrifice too great to achieve this; they have traveled for so very long, they deserve to have a place to call their own.

The desert, with its oppressive heat, lack of water, and hostile wild creatures found nowhere else in Elanthia, is now their domain.  They will master it, or they will die trying; their pride will allow them nothing less.

However, decades of being an itinerant race have taken a large toll, they are no longer a strongly united people.  Many factions came into being over the years since leaving the green wood of their ancestors, and many of these separatist groups have not always chosen to achieve their goals through peaceful means. 

Fights and skirmishes have become more common over the last few decades, some between individuals and others through groups, ranging in size from a few individuals to many scores of people.  It seems that their exodus began with warfare, and so shall their existence continue to be so; the days of being at peace with each other has come to a bitter and enduring end.


Gorvan is a man of great stature, both physically and psychologically intimidating, and he knows it.  His mere presence at a meeting has been known to shift the direction of a debate, without him saying a word.

Gorvan is also a separatist.  His belief in "one people" was shattered long ago when his grandfather was killed for nothing more than the copper bracelets adorning his wrists.  Though there was a strong suspicion of who the culprit was none were ever brought to justice due to the family affiliations of the suspected perpetrator of the crime, proving once again that it is always about who you know.

Gorvan is deep in thought, his brow furrowed with his intensity.  As if from a great distance he hears his name being called, bringing him back to the present.  He looks up at the people around him in the great tent and smiles slightly.

"My apologies," he says.  "My thoughts were elsewhere."  His muscles ripple beneath his nut-brown skin as he stands to his full height of six feet, ten inches; he towers over the assembled people and his head barely misses touching the roof of the tent.

A hush settles over the crowd as he begins to speak, his voice a rich, full baritone.  "I have asked to speak here because I have an announcement to make."  A few in the crowd fidget uncomfortably at his words.

"At the next Festival of the Sun, six weeks from this very night, some will be leaving you.  We have decided it is time, we are of sufficient numbers to establish a clan of our own."

There are some outcries from the crowd, but a single look from Gorvan silences them.

"There are too many of us to be stopped, so don't bother trying.  Shedding blood upon what should be a peaceful event would be folly, and foolish; we have the strength to do as we wish."

"We will take any who want to join us and we will force none to come who do not wish it.  But be forewarned, if you choose to join us the road will be hard and you WILL be expected to keep up and do your share of the work.  We will brook no laziness and if you expect anyone to cater to your whims you will be cast out into the sands, without a moments hesitation."

He pauses a moment to gather his thoughts; fully aware that what he says next will heavily influence the assembled people.

"We have been told by our elders, through the histories passed down through the generations, that, long ago, when we lived in the Wood, we were a strong people, a proud people, a deeply respectful and respected people."

"Over the many, many years that we were without a home of our own, we have become weak, complacent, and without the great "sense of self" that we once had, and those who have chosen to accompany me will stand for it no more.  We will be known as the Mir'sheq, and we will once again become a strong people, or we will die; either fate is preferable to what we have become."

"So we shall leave, and we will become that which the desert dictates.  We will venture into this ocean of sand, this sea of fire.  It will not be easy, leaving that which we have grown familiar with, the comforts we have, our friends and family who may not choose to accompany us; but we shall endeavor to persevere."

Thirty-Two Years Later

They number in the many hundreds, those gathered to pay their last respects.  The pyre upon which the man has been laid to rest is immense; the wood (a very precious commodity in the desert) stacked nearly ten feet high has been drenched in the oil rendered from the fat of the great morduska.

All walk past the body of the man, resplendent in his deep purple ridgeweaver silk burnoose and veil, each placing some trinket in the sand near the place of the imminent conflagration.

Stones, bones or teeth from some desert dwelling creature, copper jewelry, a yierka spur or takouba, a swatch of ridgeweaver silk, small flasks or bladders of water, parcels of food, all are in abundance; each a small token of the respect shown to this man in death, as in life.

A torch is tossed onto the dry wood and almost immediately the fire grows large and the heat becomes intense.  The flames lick at the body upon the pyre, seemingly almost hesitant to consume the remains of this great man of the Tehir people.  Suddenly, with a mighty roar, the fire encompasses the corpse, the smoke billowing black into the sky.

A strong wind begins to blow, scattering hot sparks through the air, as the body is consumed in the flames of death…

And then, as if mourning in their unique way, the sands begin to sing.

The Tehir Chronicles, Part 1, Itinerant


The wood is silent; a deathly calm that is abnormal in the extreme.  Her breath comes in ragged gasps, her skin glistens with a sheen of sweat, as she scans the forest around her, doing her best to remain silent and unnoticed.

A primal scream of rage, most certainly non-human, shatters the stillness, coming from somewhere to her right.  Her senses, keen due to years of living in the wood, are drawn to the direction from where the sound emanated.  Even though she has fought for years to help keep her people safe, a nervous pit, based in fear, forms within her stomach… she knows what hunts her.

She tries her best to put those feelings aside, to bury them deep, and to concentrate on the task before her.  Her grip on her takouba tightens reflexively in an attempt to maintain her grasp on her weapon, her palms slick with sweat.

A mist begins to flow across the forest floor, moving inexorably in her direction… the beast has found her.

Suddenly, before she has a chance to react, the fangs are at her neck.  She feels the fetid breath upon her skin as her life's blood flows from her mangled throat; the beast's claws are ripping through her leather armor and into her soft belly, spilling her entrails onto the ground, her lifeless eyes staring into the great void.

The beast begins to feed.

Seventeen years later…

Chapter One

"We cannot leave our homes, this place of our ancestors.  This is where we belong.  We must fight to keep it," says Grinta.  He looks at the array of people around him, all seated in a large circle around the great fire burning in the hearth.  Few nod in agreement; many show doubt and outright divergence, displayed in the fact that they shake their heads fervently.

"Do my words mean nothing?" asks Grinta.  "Would you leave all we have to go elsewhere, into the unknown lands beyond the forest?"  B'shora stands, slowly, elegantly.  She waits for a moment, making a show of collecting her thoughts, allowing the fervor to die down.  Then, she speaks, her voice soft, but with undertones of great power, garnered through the respect she has been shown by her people.

B'shora begins, "I do not doubt the courage of Grinta; his deeds and words are noble and much he says is true, though I believe he is mistaken.  We are a defeated people."  She pauses a moment to allow her words to be considered by the mass of people around her. 

"We lose far more warriors each moon than we have births.  If this continues, and, if we stay here, it surely shall, then very soon we will cease to exist.  The beasts that hunt us are merciless and they will never stop.  Our warriors die, our magic is futile; there is but one choice left to us."

"The Darkness is upon us and we cannot hope to prevail.  We are now too few; we have lost far too many; too many friends and too much blood.  Our Elvin allies are retreating deeper into the forest, protecting their own in the only way they know how, by using the magic of the wood to hide them and their kin.  We have no such power over the wood.  We have only the power of our blood, and we have lost too many mages to the Master.  Our power is all but gone.  We must leave, while we still can."

B'shora's words are followed by silence, as each considers her words.  A white haired man then speaks.  "B'shora, your words are wise, but even more importantly, they are true.  Which way do you believe we should go and how far do we need to travel?"

"Thank you, Zelion," B'shora says as she bows gracefully to the elder.  "It is my belief that there is but one way to go.  The Master and his minions have left us only one direction, I do not know for how long our scouts and fighters can keep that path clear.  We must go north and west, and we must do it soon, before the next season, preferably sooner."

Zelion nods.  "The elders require time to consider the words spoken here.  Our decision will be aired on the morrow, at this time, in this place."

Seven months later…

Chapter Two

"The rear guard is failing, they are besieged on three sides and are taking heavy losses!" exclaims Ushim.  "You must move faster!"

"We can go no faster, we have the old and young, and they can only cover so much ground.  It is three days to the foot of the mountains, perhaps four.  The rear guard must not fail, or all is lost," says Kish.  "You must hold, or we all die."

Ushim nods.  "We will do all we can."  "No," says Kish, "you will fight, and you will hold them back.  I know you will."

Ushim mounts and rides back through the throng of humanity towards the rear of the column.  Hundreds of people, broken, battered, and homeless, watch with a forlorn hope as the warrior heads back to the rear guard, back to the battle that will determine the fate of the people.

As Ushim draws nearer to the lines of the rear guard, the sounds of battle reach his ears.  The screams of his dying warriors echo through the woodlands and the howls of the enemy are numerous.  Ushim knows this battle will be the last many of his men and women will see in this world; perhaps even his last.  But that is a matter of little concern to him. 

Ushim finds his captains and gets a quick update of the situation; it is indeed grim.  The enemy has been probing for weak points and nearly broken through the lines in a number of areas.  There just aren't enough warriors to cover the entire front, he must somehow shorten his lines, consolidate his forces.  The only answer is to retreat, but the question is, how to disengage from the enemy without it becoming a total rout.

Ushim quickly issues orders to his commanders.  A narrow defile is but 2 leagues away, if his men can make it they can set up a strong defensive position and hold the enemy at bay for a good amount of time; time his people need to escape to the relative safety of the mountains.

Chapter 3

Dusk… Now or Never.

Ushim issues the command and a flaming arrow rockets into the night air.  Immediately, scores of burning missiles follow and the entire battlefront is consumed in flames, for as far as the eye can see.  His warriors hurriedly disengage and proceed, in rapid but good order, to make a fighting withdrawal the two leagues to the defensive position he has chosen. 

The fires consume the pine forest, some trees exploding in the great heat generated.  Ushim can see beastly shapes among the flames, writhing in agony, being burned alive; their screams can be heard even above the roar of the conflagration.  Ushim's lips curl into a grin, though his eyes show nothing but a cold, calculating menace.  Something has finally gone right; perhaps some of his battle weary warriors will live to tell the tale of this battle to their grandchildren.

Suddenly there is movement on the left; evidently some of the enemy had already been among his lines before the flames were lit.  Ushim draws his weapon and hurriedly gathers what men and women he can around him.  He grasps the warhorn hanging from a thong at his belt and, drawing a huge breath, brings the warhorn to his lips.  The call to battle is long and loud, heard even by those non-fighters in the column of humanity that are fleeing for their lives toward the mountains.

Ushim and his small band of brave men and women, forming a wedge, charge the enemy forces on the edge of the burning forest.  The battle is intense, but over in mere minutes.  The enemy has been vanquished, but at a cost.

Aftermath, Dawn of the Next Day

"Enter," says Kish, upon hearing the scratching at the entrance to her tent.  Arborvond, Captain of the Second Company walks in slowly, his face bearing a mask of pain and suffering.  He is covered is blood and soot, his face blackened, with the exception of the tear streaks upon his cheeks.  He bows deeply and, his voice cracking with emotion, says, "Commander Kish, I bring you grim tidings of Battallion Commander Ushim, who has fallen in the action of the rear guard."

Commander Kish momentarily looks at the ground, stricken at the loss of her best battalion commander, and her friend.  Regaining her composure, she bids Arborvond to sit and tell her the details of the battle.

Arborvond tells her of the battle, the fire, and the ordered withdraw to the narrow defile.  He tells her of the sudden appearance of the enemy upon the left flank and the immediate reaction by Ushim and the small band he hurriedly assembled with him.  He explains, in detail, of the heroic fall of Ushim.  "Captain Ushim," he says, "fell after drawing the enemy to him so that the survivors of his small band could escape to the relative safety of the defile."

"He sacrificed his life so that his soldiers could live to fight on.  Thanks to his plan and his sacrifice, we now have a very strong defensive position, which we can hold indefinitely.  I regret to say his body was unrecoverable," the Commander of the Second Company says.  Kish nods slowly, then smiles softly at Arborvond.  "He will live on within us all Captain," she says.  "His sacrifice shall be remembered in the histories of our people, this I swear."

"Get some rest Captain," Kish says, "you are now the new battalion commander.  You and your troops have fought valiantly and with honor.  You have saved our people with your sacrifices.  We all owe you and your warriors a debt we cannot hope to repay.  You have done well."

Chapter 4

We Grow Stronger For It

"Wild carrots again?" whines four year old Salston.  "I don't like wild carrots Mother.  I want something else."  Ja'hav, his mother, is a thin woman with short dark hair who has rarely smiled since the death of her husband in an avalanche 11 moons ago.  The pain and sadness in her eyes speak volumes.  Left to raise her child alone she does the best she can, but, like many other mothers, she longs to be able to provide more for her child.

"Salston," she says, "the mountains are hard, and so must we be, to survive.  If the mountain provides carrots, then we eat carrots; and we grow stronger for it.  If you eat your carrots I will tell you a story, a story of a hero of our people."  The young child eats his carrots, though the look of distaste upon his face is very evident.

"I ate them all, Mother," Salston says.  "Very good," his mother says.  "You have earned your story." 

"Long ago," she begins, "the people were besieged by a mighty foe; a foe we could not defeat.  Our ancestors had to flee our homeland far to the southeast, but the enemy pursued them.  They fled to these mountains, though much further southeast than we are now.  But, before they entered these mountains, they were nearly destroyed.  If it weren't for one man, the people would have all been killed.  His name was Ushim…

The Mountains End

Struggling for many, many years to survive in the mountainous region they fled to, the people move on.  There are fewer than before, but they are not in danger of extinction.  Though many have been lost through the years to battle, starvation, and sickness, they are still a proud people, though homeless, with no sense of belonging, as they once had.  They have no true home.

Longing for a home, such as they had within the forest, the people once again strike out, to the northwest.  They travel for many seasons, their pace slowed due to their numbers and the need to protect the elderly and young.  They hunt and forage as they travel, managing to eek out an existence, surviving, but barely.

Finally, travel-weary and footsore, they manage to cross the mountains and enter into a region of grasslands and rolling hills.  Travel is easier, but there is nothing to keep the people here; this does not feel like home; besides, there are signs of others about.  The Seers say they must continue until the breezes blow hot and the ground under their feet sings to them.  They will know when they have found a new home.

The Ground That Sings

The sun overhead is merciless; its rays are death to anything not of this land.  In the distance, there is movement, a long, dark line at the base of a rising cloud of dust.  As the line draws across the sand, inexorably going deeper into the scorching desert, more details become apparent.  It is a multitude of people, a proud and, though battered, undefeated people.  The air is hot, the desolation complete; not another living thing is within sight, other than The People.  The winds grow more intense shortly after the coming of the dawn.

Suddenly, the sands begin to sing, their song calling to the people, beckoning them home.