From the bright light a man will come and like a feather fall. He will find himself beset by clansmen with malice before his wrath is known. His foot will cull a chieftan, and his elbow will cull the son. His mind will cull the clans.
- Smokespoken by Elder Kenna of the Salmut Clan at the Ritual of Tiourag in the 14th year of the Hawk.
The young children squealed in delight as the first wagon of the caravan came into view. Within seconds a large herd of the little ones in dusty clothes raced towards the caravan all yelling excitedly.
Talif of Clan Morsa looked over to his son who returned his gaze in earnest. Talif nodded assent to the unasked question and Cassus' face split into a wide grin and he raced off to join his friends as they went to accost the merchants.
"He still needs your approoval in all things, Talif."
Talif turned and regarded his wife silently. She was mending one of his sandals quietly and had watched the exchange. She looked up at him with a smile crinkling around her eyes. She was still a beauty, even now when he knew she baited him.
"Is it not proper for sons to look to their father for approval?" He frowned at her as her smile only widened.
"Of course it is, but not all sons are as dutiful as Cassus at that age. I was merely pointing out our fortune."
"Fortune had nothing to do with it. Strong parents breed strong children. It is the way of things." She nodded at the rebuke but he was secretly pleased at her observation.
"Still, he could do with some praise, Tal. You are far too sparing with it."
"Don't rebuke me, Shelain. I will give praise where I see fit."
"Yes, husband." The quirk of her mouth gave the lie to her contrite tone, but he did not have the will to rebuke her further. He suspected there was some merit in her observations. He hadn't dishonoured himself with a stupid bride.
He finished oiling his blade in silence as observed her quiet strength. She was still lithe and athletic despite birthing him five children. Her eyes were lively and playful despite the gray in her braid, and her mind was as sharp as her tongue, though always in private so as not to embarrass him. He counted himself a fortunate man to have won her all those years ago.
He was pulled out of his reverie by the wagons approach. There were four of them in total with a small escort of armed men on horseabck looking about nervously.
Talif stood to greet them. He heard footsteps behind him and recognized the approach of his chieftan even before he spoke. "they look mighty nervous, Tal." His chieftan leaned over and spit on the earth as a sign of his disrespect for them. "I wonder if three of them could give you and that curved Scavardi of yours a challenge, heh?"
"Do not judge their skill with a blade by their appearance, else you will be dissappointed, Hasta." Hasta barked a laugh and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Well, they have come all this way, I suppose I had better barter with these fools." With that Hasta stepped forward and launched into a tirade in the trading language that stilled the tentative smile that had been on the merchants face. Talif almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
Once a year every clan sent a small host to accompany their chieftan as he journeyed to the shores of Blood Lake to meet with the Elders and each other, and every year caravans were granted safe passage across the plains to barter with them. If they were allowed to come all this way with their fool animals grazing upon their land, he thought they deserved whatever reception greeted them.
Blood Lake got it's name many years ago when the fertile shores had been a source of much contention amongst the clans. The water ran red with their blood on many occasions after great conflicts arose for the right to graze upon the shores. After watching this unending conflict the Elders finally claimed it as their own, and each clan sent their elders to live here once life on the plains became too arduous.
Talif was proud to be invited by his chieftan to come to Blood Lake this year. It was the sixth time he had been to Blood Lake, but the first that he was able to bring his wife and son with him. The other four children were with his wife-brother and their family back with the herd.
Many of the Morsa clan came to watch the spectacle as Hasta climbed up onto the wagon and began arguing with the merchant in earnest. Hasta was making a great show of threatening to send the Merchant back the way they came if they could not offer proper tribute to the finest chieftan on the Northern plain. The merchant looed seriously concerned at the prospect, but trying deperately not to offend the dangerous looking man.
"Do you honestly think I care how far you have travelled?! You will travel no furhter in this life if I am not satisfied with your tribute."
"But sir I have never heard of a tribute being owed or I would have prepared better, I assure -"
"You have a whole wagon full of tributes. No one in this valley is better prepared than you to provide adequate tribute, now let me in the back and I will decide what suits me." Several guffawed at this, but Hasta silenced them with a glare.
Talif shook his head. He had to respect Hasta's audacity, even if he found his chieftan too loquacious and overbearing most of the time. He had to admit the man always provided good value for the clan in situations such as these where fast words were needed.
Without warning a rent appeared in the sky above the wagons. A yellow sun glared through the rent into their eyes blinding all who looked at it, and after it opened wide a person fell through, though so slowly that they seemed to float. He landed with a small puff of dust upon the road in between two of the wagons. With a soft popping sound the rent dissappeared and they were all left looking at the oddly dressed man pulling himself to sitting position in the dust.
The merchant took full advantage of the distraction and bounded out of the wagon seat in a showy effort to provide assistance to the stranger. When Hasta recoverd his surprise to realize his quarry had fled he scowled horrible and vaulted himself from the wagon to confront the stranger.
"Who are you? How dare you come into this sacred place flaunting your magic. You interrupted a ritual tribute and have endangered this merchants life with your foolishness!"
The stranger slowly gained his feet and seemed to be blinking a lot in confusion and shaking his head. His shock of dark hair was in shapr contrast to his paler skin, and his dark eyes were shaped ina way Talif had never seen before on a man, they were almost almond shaped.
"Answer me!" Hasta barked, backhanding the smaller man violently accross the mouth. The blow sent him into the dust. Talif noticed then that the man was barefoot. was he monk? If so where was his cowl and why did he seem so alarmed? Talif had seen a monk once and the man had seemed serene. this strangers clothes were a stark white in contrast to the sand coloured garb that the plainspeople wore, and a single black belt seemed told the whole outfit together. The man looked ridiculous, especially as he shakily gained his feet and started muttering something in some other language.
This only infuriated Hasta even more, and he backhanded the stranger again, sending him into the dust. Talif recognized the rage in Hasta's eyes and knew there would be no calming him until he was satisfied.
It was bad luck for the stranger to interrupt what would have been a great bartering coup for Hasta and now he would know the depth of Hasta's dissappointment intimately. The smaller man staggered to his feet once more and dodged Hasta's next slap. Hasta seemed to be colling down a bit as the man baced away, but then the stranger did the unthinkable. He put both hands int he air with the palms facing Hasta. What an insult! No man did that to a chieftan, especially not one with a temper like Hasta's.
Hasta bellowed in rage and ripped his sword out of the scabbard at his back. The strangers eyes grew wide but he continued to hold his hands up palm outward toward Hasta. Why would he antagonize him so, and he was unarmed. Talif shook his head. The man deserved what came. Such insolence could only be paid with death.
Hasta jumped forward and slashed accross at the man's hands, which he snatched back just in time to avoid losing them. He advanced on him again slashing back the other way, but the stranger bounced away from the slash. Twice more the stranger evaded the blade, as they circled first away from the wagons and then back toward them.
Everyone in the clan stood far back to let the Hasta have some room to finish the man. Talif heard hoofbeats in the distance and knew that some of the peoples from other clans were riding to find out what was happening.
Finally Hasta had the stranger backed up against the side of a wagon. The stranger had nowhere to go. Hasta drew his sword back for a killing thrust and when he struck the smaller man had turned sideways to avoid it. The point of the sword stuck into the wagon, and the strager took full advatage, striking Hasta hard against his sword arm. Talif heard the crunch the imapct, and Hasta howled in pain.
He staggered back, his sword left behind sticking out of the wagon, as the smaller man struck him a number of times in quick succession. Talif was amazed at his speed as he drove Hasta backward witha flurry of hard blows. With a cry the smaller man leapt up and twisted in midair so his foot somehow struck Hasta in the face so hard that the man literally spun in the air before landing.
All was silent for a moment as the small man looked down upon Hasta. Hasta's head was turned at a most unnatural angle and it was quite obvious to all around that he was dead. Talif was stunned.
The silence was broken by an exclamation of dismay. Talif looked over and saw Yotuth advancing out of the crowd towards the stranger. Yotuth was Hasta's oldest son, and a rival to Talif himself with the Scavardi, which he now held in combat stance as he advanced toward the stranger.
Yotuth's first few slashes missed their mark and the stranger slid down upon the ground and did something with his feet that toppled Yotuth. His Scavardi skittered away from his grasp as he fell heavily. He rolled easily to his feet, but the stranger now stood between Yotuth and his blade.
Yotuth leaned down and drew a knife out of his boot, but the stranger did not give him time to use it as he spun toward Yotuth and slammed an elbow into his neck. The knife slipped from Yotuth's fingers as he grasped his crushed throat. It only took him a few moments to die.