Thursday, January 30, 2014

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Doom of Minghaa

The plains men of the west came to Minghaa's yurt in search of trade and marriage. Minghaa the Generous received them well. He poured them strong wine and gave them the best of the feast. When the men of the west with their yellow haired leader told the Son of Heaven that he sought a bride for his sons, the Magnanimous One smiled. The fame of the bold warriors of the west was well known.

Minghaa the Mighty brought forward his daughters. The sullen sons paid them little eye but for the youngest. Taba, the fairest of the flowers of Nayany and Minghaa took one in hand. As she told the Son of Heaven of her desire to take him in her arms, the spurned one stood and struck a hard blow. He spread apart Taba's white throat with his demon blade even as he struck down his brother. Minghaa called down Heaven's Fury upon the men of the west.

His brother Menai leaped forward with his klah in hand. The moon blade sang and the demon blade shattered. The yellow haired man of the west fled with a cry of terror as Menai called together the war party. A thousand men gathered. A thousand men rode, calling to the Sky Father and Mother to let their klahs be sharp and their shija fly true.

Sky Father looked down upon them with his stern face. The grass sea parted before them, leading onward to where the yellow haired villain passed. The Sky Mother watched over them in the night, her maidens weaving the fall of the men of the west in the stars. Menai took counsel with the sorcerer Denua when they reached the silver thread.

For three days, they remained at the glimmering way. Battle songs they sung. Denua lead them the loudest as Menai sharpened his klah and drank his wine. The third night, the Sky Mother and her maidens hid their faces in the veils of cloud. Denua read the signs of the fire and pronounced to Menai that it was time. Denua warned the brother of the Son of Heaven not to step into the kybashi, for the Sky Mother's hiding of her face warned of evil things.

Menai, drunk upon the wines he had brought with him laughed. He declared that he would burn the kybashi of the men of the west. Denua said nothing, going to strike the battle drum and sing the battle songs until the rise of the Sky Father.

The silver track turned red as blood. Denua warned Menai not to go into the kybashi but Menai only repeated that he would burn them. Denua beat the drum and screamed to the Sky Father. The war party crossed the waters and came to the kybashi. The yellow haired villain stood with five half grown boys. Menai struck him a hard blow with his klah. The yellow haired man fell to the ground and was crushed beneath the hooves of Menai's mount.

He passed into the kybashi and found many were dead. Those who lived were taken as slaves. Menai lit the kybashi a fire and brought his prisoners across the water. Denua met him at his yurt. Denua had not seen the battle but knew upon seeing Menai's prisoners that he had gone within the kybashi of the men of the west. Denua insisted that Menai kill all he had taken but Menai did not listen.

The war party returned to the Son of Heaven. As they traveled back, the slaves proved too weak for service and fell. Old horses gave way to age and Denua lead the songs of parting. A stone kybashi was raised where the horse of Menai fell. There, the spirits of the herd remain. A day later, they arrived at the Son of Heaven's encampment. The horses were sent to the kybashi and the war party went to their women.
Denua was heard to speak late in the night to the Sky Mother. He wept like a woman and struck the earth with his fists. At sunrise, the far sighted Denua, uncle of the Son of Heaven was found laying within ashes and groaning. The Son of Heaven and Menai consulted and tried to guess what the Sky Mother wanted of Denua and why she struck him down.

The Son of Heaven built a pyre and brought out his finest horse. He opened its throat and placed it upon the blaze. Smoke rose high and the Sky Father veiled his face with clouds. The tears of the Sky Mother and the maidens fell for nine days. As the Sky Mother and the maidens wept, Denua moved to join the ancestors. Many others did as well. Menai lay in the Son of Heaven's yurt with the shuddering judgment of the Sky Mother upon him.

The Son of Heaven and Nayany begged the ancestors to aid them. They burned fragrant grasses, poured wine, and fasted. The ancestors took Menai in their arms and the Son of Heaven sacrificed his second best horse to give Menai a proper beast for him to ride the plains. Nayany soon became ill as did the Son of Heaven.

Three days, they shuddered and wasted. The Son of Heaven screamed for the Sky Father and Mother to forgive him. His cries were so loud that they were heard in every part of the encampment. Nayany died with a sigh. The Son of Heaven soon went to her side with the ancestors. As the maidens grew to womanhood, the people of the Sky Father and Mother failed.

Some fled to the east and found the clans of others to take them in. It is from them that we learned of their story. Before they fled, they built a stone kybashi about the encampment. At the fixed stone of sunrise, the skulls of the horses were set to watch. At the fixed stone of sunset, the klahs were stood across the entrance. Thus were the dead guarded by their own arms.

Klah ~ sword
Kybashi ~ enclosure
Shija ~ arrow (plural: singular is shiji)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sorenan & Mina

Walking into the Great Hall of the temple, Sorenan’s footsteps echoed against the black marble. All about him, acolytes dressed in white moved in eerie silence as they attended to their tasks. Faces obscured by veils, a group walked ahead of him with their heads bowed and hands folded into their wide sleeves. The only evidence that the figures were female was the unmistakable swell of the breast and curve of the hip that even the pale long robes of the order couldn’t hide. If it were the marketplace, the veiled women would have been the object of covert glances. It was uncommon outside of the temple proper to see more then a few of the Silent Sisters at a time, even in the city that held the main temple of the order of the Goddess.
Sorenan watched as a youth approached him. His hair had been allowed to grow out into flowing raven’s wing black curls, only the difference in his dress distinguished him from the other prepubescent neonates in the corridor. Startling blue eyes looked up at the warrior in a delicately featured face that bore the stamp of the High Priestess’s proud lineage. “You are late,” the son of the High Priestess said bluntly, “Mother will be displeased. Come.” Together, they made their way to the inner sanctum of the temple complex. The silence deepened as they progressed until it took on an almost physical quality.
Standing before the wide altar with her back to them, the High Priestess raised a silver goblet over her head. She lowered it and poured a libation over the stone altar. The acolyte at her right took the cup as she passed it to them. The High Priestess took a small bowl of grain from the acolyte to her left and raised it up over her head. She lowered it and poured the grain on the altar before handing the bowl back to the acolyte. The trio made a small gesture with their hands before the acolytes turned and began to walk for the entrance that Sorenan had passed thru. The female acolyte’s gaze briefly strayed to the face of the High Priestess’s son before looking away with a subtle blush.
The High Priestess stood with her back to the pair, her chestnut brown hair falling in waves down her back. “Jorn, join the others. Your father comes today with an important lesson,” she said quietly, looking briefly to her right at some point behind her. The lad sketches a quick bow to his mother and darted for the doorway to the right of the raised platform the altar stood on. “Don’t run, Jorn,” she called after him. Slowly, the High Priestess of the Great Goddess Julara turned to face Sorenan. Green eyes looked over his dusty clothes and features as though reading a map of where he had traveled. Though her expression was calm, a flame lit in her eyes made Sorenan uncomfortable. “We keep the old ways here, warrior,” she said gravely when her eyes finally reached his, “It would be wise of you to respect them. Punctuality is not too difficult of a thing to ask, is it?”
Sorenan felt his stomach twist. Something about the way the woman held his gaze and her soft voice echoed in the chamber made him suddenly feel vulnerable. “No, Lady,” he said in a tone that mimicked her own as he gave a low bow, “I most humbly apologize.” A small frown twisted her ruby lips into a slight grimace of distaste.
“Words are cheap, man,” she said, striding past him in the direction that he had come, “It is action I expect of you. Come.” Sorenan recognized the order given for what it was and promptly fell into step a pace behind her. “You were dispatched to deliver a message to the people of the northern reaches,” she said, “Did the elders there receive you?” Sorenan shook his head.
“No, Lady, they refused me ... and your Emissary,” he replied, lengthening his stride to keep pace with her as she made her way down the passages back to her office. “They said that they intend to continue their raids into your holdings, claiming it as divinely given to them,” he continued, watching as she clasped her hands behind her back, “They additionally said that your priesthood’s presence in their territories was … unwelcome.”
The dark haired woman halted and looked over at Sorenan with a gimlet gaze. “What, precisely, did they say?” she demanded. Sorenan swallowed despite himself. He didn’t like the fact that he was about to tell the woman who is recognized as the living daughter of Julara, avatar of her mercy and wrath, that her priestesses and priests were being executed on sight. While his faith was lapsed, there was enough present to make him uneasy with telling her the death threat delivered by the elders of the tribes north of the city. She again looked at him as though reading him and the grim frown returned.
“Death is it?” she said, “I suppose it was naiveté to have expected otherwise. Am I correct to believe that the sons of Omurath have turned away as well?” Sorenan blinked. The sandy haired man hadn’t expected her to be aware of the news he had only become privy to in the last hour prior to his arrival at the temple gates. The flicker of surprise that flashed over his face was answer enough for her and the High Priestess turned away. She began to walk again.
“It will soon be time, warrior,” she said, “That the death bringers will walk with my children. It is not your faith that I need but rather your arm. A great evil is amassing north of us and shall soon move south. The gods have placed us as a general would his troops in an effort to out maneuver that evil and defend against it. I am not a warrior and have need of the eyes of one. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Sorenan frowned. “Why me?” he asked as she lead the way into her office. The High Priestess poured two cups of cool tea. She pulled off two leaves from the sprig of mint sitting beside the teapot and floated one upon the tea in each cup. As the light slid thru the cut glass windows, Sorenan could see the beginnings of gray at her temples and the start of age in her face. A delicate hand picked up one cup and gestured to the other on the tray as she moved to gaze out that window.
“Because my husband and I trust you, Sorenan,” she said quietly, letting the duties and role of High Priestess of Julara slip aside. Mina looked over at Sorenan. “We can speak freely here. Between the wards and the hour, we won’t be disturbed. Jorn will bring his father when the lesson is done,” she said before looking down into her cup of tea. “I prayed for you,” Mina said after a long moment, “Julara had told me you were in danger.” Sorenan sighed.
“Mina …” he started and she raised a finger, pressing it to her lips. Sorenan fell silent. They drank their tea in brooding silence. “You should know that this isn’t going to work,” he said finally in frustration, “No matter what you and Marcos do, some one is going to find out. There’ll be outcry.” Mina looked over at Sorenan.
“Do you really think we’re that naive? That we could simply hide this with silence?” she said with a smile, “Ah, Sorenan. What ever shall I do with you?” Sorenan shook his head. Mina sat down in her chair and gestured to the one at the other side of the desk. As he sat down, she continued, “There is a prophecy that speaks of three stars coming into alignment. We are those three stars. Not that planetary alignment that happened the day I became High Priestess.” Sorenan frowned. It was an old argument that he didn’t want to bring up again, thus he said nothing and sipped his tea. Mina frowned as he looked down into the cup.

“You shall see, love,” Mina said, lightly touching his left hand where it rested on the desk “I know you do not trust the Gods as I do, but it will come to pass as I have seen it.” Sorenan sighed tiredly. He suddenly felt bone weary, as though the last few weeks of effort all came together in a single moment. Mina watched his face closely. “You're tired,” she said gently, “Have you been sleeping?”
Sorenan looked up from the cup. Concern was written on her face as she looked at him in all tenderness. He thought of the bodies he saw hanging from the walls of the razed temple in the north. He looked away, unable to help the sudden rush of grief and horror. Sorenan put down the cup of tea as his imagination painted the gruesome scenario fresh again. In his mind's eye, he saw Mina's face on one of them and he choked back a sudden sob. Mina's eyes widened. “Sorenan,” she said, suddenly unsure what to do as he covered his eyes.
“They slaughtered them,” he said, unable to hide the choking horror he felt suddenly “All of them, even the girls.” Tears began to roll down his cheeks. “It was an abattoir,” he sobbed, “And the tribesmen, they were proud of it. They bragged... They bragged of how many they raped before they killed. They brought in Sisters from smaller temples and ...” His voice broke and Sorenan wept. All he could see was his lover's face on the dead and envisioning her enduring the torture that those women had borne.
Mina was shaken by the force of Sorenan's outpouring of emotion. She had not expected the hardened man to come to her, weeping with grief for what he had seen. She put her tea down and rose. As she walked around the desk, his shoulders shook as harder sobs wracked him. “Oh,” she sighed, “Oh my love. I'm sorry.” He leaned against her as she rubbed his shoulders in a soothing gesture. “I shouldn't have sent you,” she whispered.
Sorenan breathed deeply of the scent of her clothes. He wrapped his arms about her waist, comforting himself with the fact that she was real and safe. This woman that he would willingly die for was, for the moment, free from harm.

Abraxas & Sorenan

"Ah, Sorenan," the fat man sitting at the table said, clapping his hands with a smile, "the bold warrior beloved of Julara's witch." Sorenan frowned at the merchant. He ran his greasy hands over his bloated belly and waved a slave off as they moved to take away the platter of quail bones sitting before him. "You grace my hall with your presence too often of late, my friend," the merchant said, reaching for a cup of spiced wine.

Sorenan rested his hands lightly on the hilts of the daggers at his hips. He loathed Abraxas but the piggish man was the only truly reliable source of information he had on the movements of Althar's men. Abraxas, a blading man who stood roughly shoulder height to the weather hardened, blond haired man, decided to forgo all pretense of civility or the ritualized customs of welcome. He sat at his table and gorged himself on food and drink even as his newly arrived guest had come in from a fierce storm and at the end of an obviously long journey. No, Abraxas scorned Sorenan as much as the mercenary loathed him. Theirs was an arrangement that was strictly business, though it didn't stop Abraxas from making cutting remarks.

Abraxas had heard the rumors that Sorenan had entered the service of the high priestess of Julara. Sorenan's former companions spoke of how he had abandoned their company to spend time at the temple of the order of the Silent Sisters. As men who had little other to do during the relative peace of the season, they speculated as to what he was doing there. One had seen him in the slender, dark haired woman's company once. That was all it took for the rumors of his being her lover to arise.

Abraxas noted the subtle tension that passed through Sorenan's face, as though he gritted his teeth for a moment in irritation at his greeting. Deciding that he would goad him further later, Abraxas set aside his cup after he had taken a long pull off of it. "What do you come for this time? Spices, silks? Stones, perhaps?" Abraxas said in his nasally voice, turning his gaze to the sugared dates. He picked one up and popped it into his mouth, knowing that it would irritate the brooding man that he did not set to discussing Althar immediately.

"Where is he?" Sorenan said, deciding he didn't have time for Abraxas's usual games. Abraxas noted the coldness in the mercenary's voice and arched an eyebrow. "I have a message," he continued. Abraxas coughed suddenly as he began to choke on the date as he gasped in surprise. One of the slaves moved towards him as Sorenan stepped forward.

Sorenan gripped Abraxas's tunic and pulled him forward. He slapped him hard three times between the shoulder blades. With the third blow, the half eaten glob of fruit was ejected and landed in Abraxas's lap. Sorenan pushed Abraxas back into his seat and leaned down, putting his lean face into the big man's own. "Where is your damned brother?" he demanded. Abraxas's eyes widened as the blood drained out of his face.

Suddenly, Abraxas remembered why Sorenan was known as the Lion of the North. It was not for his sandy blond hair that resembled the great cat's pelt. It was not for his strange, amber hued eyes. It was for his cold, ruthless capacity for violence. Abraxas opened his mouth to yell for one of his men and Sorenan gave him a warning look. His left hand closed about the hilt of his left dagger, clearly in view of the merchant. "You'll breathe through a second mouth before they get to the door. The slaves won't lift a finger for your fat ass," Sorenan growled, "By killing you, I set them free and have a chorus of voices that will say that you sought to have me killed by poison."

"They can't," Abraxas gasped, looking over at the silent figures hovering in the shadows of the room.

"Try me, fat man," Sorenan said, sliding the knife partially out of the sheath.

"He's in Selath," Abraxas said in a panicked rush, "He's seeking to raise the sons of Omurath to his cause."

Sorenan slid the knife back into the sheath and straightened as Abraxas put a shaking hand on his chest and attempted to will his heart to a slower pace. "Then they have turned against Dacia," Sorenan said quietly, taking a step back.

"What matter is it to you?" Abraxas demanded, "You get paid good coin at either side."

Sorenan turned his gaze back to Abraxas. He thought about how far Selath was from the city of Asser. Abraxas could send a rider and in close to a fortnight, if the weather held, get word to Althar of his inquiries. Sorenan had known that it was risky to attempt to learn the movements of the warlord from his lesser brother. Now, he questioned if the brother would attempt to buy favor in selling information to him.

"Dacian coffers are full," Sorenan said, "Your brother runs at the edge of the wind and takes the jackal road for his provisions." Abraxas waved a dismissive hand.

"Althar's fame feeds him," Abraxas said, "What good is it to me? His star rises and I still scrape for coin. Look at this place. It is a pauper's hovel compared to what is my due." Sorenan looked about the room and then back to Abraxas. "The question is, my friend, what good does Dacia do for poor men like me." Sorenan frowned.

"A silk merchant could make quite a bit of coin if he were to provide the Silent Sisters with their veils," Sorenan said. Abraxas's eyes brightened and his tongue briefly flashed to touch his upper lip in a nervous gesture. "I have heard that they are looking for supply for the winter feasts," Sorenan said. Abraxas's hands fidgeted with the edges of the hems of his sleeves. "It may even be that the High Priestess herself would be interested in your wares," Sorenan continued.

Greed overtook Abraxas's caution. "I could bring the finest web for her Ladyship," he said. Sorenan nodded slowly.

"I'll take a token of your good faith," Sorenan said. He made a show of looking about the room before his gaze alighted upon the elaborately inscribed amulet resting on Abraxas's chest. He leaned forward and gave the gilded bronze a hard pull. The cord that it was upon snapped and Abraxas's eyes widened in horror. "This comes with me," Sorenan said, "Betray me and it goes into the fires. I'll destroy it as surely as I will kill you."

Abraxas's expression was pained as he watched the tall man put the amulet into the pouch he carried on his right side. It was all that Abraxas had left of his tribe. When he had been cast out, his mother had thrown the amulet to him in a desperate gesture. Abraxas caught it and ran for his life. He was certain that it not only carried what good luck had brought him to becoming a successful merchant but his mother's blessing. For all that his warlike brother had done to bring renown to their tribe's name, Abraxas knew that he was barred from returning.

He tried to live through his brother's fame. But the prospect of losing his last physical link to his mother shattered all thought he had of riding his brother's coat tails to prosperity. Abraxas watched as Sorenan walked out into the windstorm and then dropped his face down into his hands and wept.