Journey to the South: Twelve of Thirty

Posted: February 13, 2013 in Fiction
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     When dawn broke the next morning, nearly a foot of snow and sleet had fallen. Out of a mixture of curiosity and stupidity, I accompanied the Decurio to the hatlac where our horses, vehicles, and supplies had been stored for the night. The snow crunched underfoot as we trudged the dozen yards or so to the other building, the winds howling and gusting around us as we walked, threatening to rip the heavy cloaks right from our backs. When we returned, Viro had two wooden cups filled with a steaming tea made from pine nettles and other herbs. The hot drink chased the chill out of our bones, which even during our brief journey outside had settled deep.

    As warmth slowly spread out through my limbs once more, I approached Cael, who was helping his wife, Eirehn, and several other cook a meal for the increased numbers huddled within the hatlac. When Eirehn had informed her husband of the storm that had been mounting at the time, the village chief had ordered that everyone in the village to take shelter in this hatlac and the two others nearest to it, so as not to increase the risks of exposure during the blizzard.

    “Good morning,” I said to the bearded chief, my teeth chattering from the cold that still lingered. The Tijhori man grunted an affirmative reply to me as he cut up sections of goat meat. “A question, Cael: the blizzard five years ago that you mentioned last night – how long did it last?”

    He paused in his cutting and thought for a moment. “Five, six days maybe. It was bad.”

    I remember a deep frown creasing my face. “That long? By the Kritanoi…”

    Cael shrugged. “It is what it is, Ambassador. You and your people are welcome to try and brave the Road, but I doubt you will make it to Yantih before you freeze or starve.”

    I remember chuckling darkly. “I thank you for your optimistic evaluation of our chances.”

    The bearded man stopped his cutting and looked at me. “It has nothing to do with your chances. It is the chances of anyone who is not an accomplished Priest of Keitu or chosen of Kalor going out there. Traveling in these kind of conditions would be death.”

    I held up a propitiating hand. “I misspoke, Cael. You have my apologies.” I looked around at the others hard at work preparing the meals and nodded. “I will leave you alone. Let myself or Decurio Atam know if there is anything that our people can do to help with the effort.”

    The Tijhori chief nodded silently and went back to work, while I wandered back over to the section of the hatlac where our retinue was huddled. I spent most of that first day of the blizzard enjoying the company of Viro, our children, and the legionaries in Atam’s turma. Again, while the villagers of Kallanha were by no means hostile or rude, there was still the lingering sense that they were uncertain of us, that we were not fully welcomed into the fold, even if only as ones who were equally at the mercy of fortune in this situation.

    Throughout the day, we assisted the Tijhori villagers as best we could – Viro helping them with food preparation, the legionaries helping with the effort of moving more of the people into the hatlac – but when evening came and the winds still howled outside, everyone was in need of rest and distraction. Cael helped by starting to play a flute that had carved himself, so he told me later on, which drew others into playing drums, simple lyres, and other instruments. The music went on for several hours before the musicians grew tired and others called for stories to be told. There were several storytellers who walked the space between the hearth-fires, weaving their tales, but the one that I remember most fully follows:

    A young woman rose from the host of villagers gathered within the hatlac and walked between fires, saying thus, “With the storm raging outside, I thought it would be appropriate to tell the story of Kalor’s winning of the Spear of Victory. Perhaps stories of the storm god might make him visit some mercy upon us, eh?” There was a wave of chuckling at that, of a few audience members echoing the sentiment, before the young woman continued. “It is said that after the People of the River had shaped the land, they settled in the forests and went out about making a comfortable life for themselves. But, not long after they raised the first hatlac, bred the first goats and cattle, and planted the first crops, one morning Tanasas woke to find her child, Morwen, gone. Tanasas was almost mad with panic and worry as searched through the village, searched the fields and forests, even going so far abroad as to consult Tijhor.

    “‘I know not where your son has gone,’ Tijhor told her daughter. ‘Such things are beyond my sight. You should ask your father, for on high he sees many things.’ And so Tanasas climbed the highest peak in the land and called out to her father, whose bright eye lights the sky.

     “‘This indeed I saw,’ Ulusas said to his fair daughter. ‘Creatures from beneath the land wriggled out from a hole, they stole into your longhouse, and made off with your son.’ Devastated, Tanasas asked her father where these creatures had gone, and he showed her the hole from which they emerged and to which they had returned. Going back to the village of the People, Tanasas pleaded and wept that they should help retrieve her son. Some balked at the notion, disbelieving Tanasas’ story, but Olorun – being the wise chief that he was – turned to Kalor, the greatest of their warriors and the craftiest of the people.

    “Kalor followed Tanasas to the hole where the creatures had come from and descended down into the dark. He took the Flame of Ulusas with him to light his way, and he did not have to travel long before he came upon the creatures in the deep. Though the Flame startled the misshapen creatures” – I remember distinctly that several of the villagers cast glances at Cuahuatec at this point, and though their suspicions are not unfathomable, it still saddened me to see the bigotry that the Gromothim encountered – “it did not hurt them and they attacked Kalor. Though the god fought bravely, the creatures overpowered him and he was forced to withdraw back to the surface. Beaten and shamed, Kalor took to the sky and consulted his father.

    “‘Father,’ the storm god said, ‘these creatures from below seem beyond my strength to defeat. How can I retrieve my nephew?’

    “‘Travel north to the great mountains before the northern ocean. There you will find holy men  exceedingly knowledgeable and skilled in the ways of magic. They will be able to assist you.’

    “And so Kalor traveled north, out from the lands of the People of the River into the lands of foreign peoples. Finally, he came to the mountains that Ulusas had spoken of and the holy men and women who lived among the peaks and plateaus. He petitioned their leader for assistance, and the man promised that they would craft a weapon of unparalleled might.

    “But, only if Kalor would accomplish something for them.

    “The skull of their order’s founder had been lost at sea many ages past, but their seers had determined it to lie within the maw of the great storm that raged far to the west, as the center of the world. If Kalor could retrieve the skull – a holy relic for the holy men and women – they would craft the weapon for him.

    “The storm god agreed and swept westward out over the Serranian. For many days and nights he traveled until he saw great storm clouds on the horizon, and the sound of howling winds and such thunder the instilled fear into even the heart of the brave warrior. As he approached the Great Storm, a woman emerged from the storm clouds, her hair the color of lightning.

    “‘Halt!’ she told him. ‘You approach the mouth of my grandfather. None are allowed within the Storm save myself.’

    “But with many sweet and clever words – for Kalor is not only brave, but crafty and possessing of a silver-tongue – the storm god seduced the woman and bedded her there among the grey clouds of the Great Storm. As she slept, so spent from Kalor’s bedding she was” – at this a wave of chuckling erupted from the audience; I suppose that the god’s prowess and libido are well known among the Tijhori – “that the warrior slipped into the maw of the Great Storm and surged down into the swirling waters.

    “Chaotic the waters were and Kalor almost drowned more than once. But deep within the maw of the Storm, far deeper than the bottom of the ocean, he found the skull of the holy men, swirled about by the raging waters. Snatching it and ascending as quickly as he could, Kalor erupted from the Great Storm, shooting up through the clouds and emerging high above them. As he made eastward as quickly as he could, he heard the despondent cry of the storm-woman, who wept at his leaving.

    “Returning to the northern mountains, Kalor presented the holy men and women with the skull of their order’s founder. Gracious, in return they crafted a spear that never missed its target, that slew instantly – the Spear of Victory. His gratitude beyond words, Kalor accepted the spear and returned to the lands of the People of the River. When he arrived at the village of the People, he found Tanasas so overcome with grief that she had taken to seclusion with her hatlac, and would refuse to see anyone. Knowing that the return of Morwen would be the only cure to her deep sadness, Kalor went to the hole of the creatures and descended once more. With each wave of the misshapen beings that he met, Kalor slew them with the Spear of Victory until he came upon Morwen – the boy being fattened by the creatures for cooking. Rescuing his nephew from the clutches of the Deep Ones, the storm god returned to the surface victorious and presented his sister with her much missed son. Tanasas was overjoyed and Kalor’s name was celebrated by the People of the River.

    “But, as we all know, the story does not end there, for the rescue of Morwen was but the opening action to the Great Battle of the Deep. Though, that is another story for another time.”


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