The heart of the eternal

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Chapter 10: A leaders duties

Wenja felt dizzy. “Are you…you cannot be serious?”

Sefa sighed. “I am, that person will be raped until he dies from the loss of blood. If it takes too long they will strangle the person slowly, as he is being used the same way he used his victim. It is cruel but the clans see it as just”

Wenja swallowed hard. Raped to death, that was a terrible fate but somehow she felt that it would have been very fitting if Mjorr was to suffer that way.

The great camp was on the move and the line of wagons and sleds was very long. Huge mules and oxen were hitched up to the largest ones, the sleds made to transport the parts to the large huts. They were made from thick felt sewn into rectangular pieces which were three meters tall and six meters long. You needed several to build just one of these great huts and they were made with a very elegant sort of hoop and hook system which enabled the handlers to erect the hut in a very short time in spite of the weight and the large size. The huts were held up by a sort of T shaped wooden bar with hooks attached to the top which was the bottom of the T. The walls would be double and the inner layer wasn’t that thick and more elaborate and often woven in lovely colours and patterns. The outer layer was usually grey or white and rather rough and about four inches thick to keep the cold out. As a result the huts required a lot of wagons to be moved and you usually had to fill at least two large ones with just the outer and inner layer of the wall. The huts were round and inside of the hut there were more T shaped bars and they were used to separate the huts into separate rooms. The walls were thin and usually almost veil like and they didn’t stop the warmth from entering every nook and cranny. The ovens were very valuable with a dwarven design, made from metal and rock and they were heavy but whence they got warm they could keep the hut warm for days and they could be taken apart and moved rather easily.

The greatest move was the hut which belonged to the Ath’ir, not because he wanted a larger hut than the others but it was tradition. The hut of the Ath’ir was the one where all the more important meetings would be held and it had to be large to room that many people and he was given way more personal space than most others there. The Ath’ir was a humble person and everybody knew that he would have been perfectly happy with one of the small felt tents the other warriors lived in. The enormous herds of cattle sheep and horses followed the caravan, each warrior usually owned at least ten horses and the families had between fifty and a hundred sheep and at least five cows and bulls so the herds had to move often to avoid starvation. They moved in an ancient rhythm they had followed from before time was counted and it was the sun which dictated it. They moved around the vast inland area which consisted of mountains and valleys and in the winter they sought the east side of the mountains where there was little precipitation and thus little snow. The west side of the mountains was great in summer for the region was very lush and fertile and the herds could fatten themselves up rather fast and the tribes had done this every year. There were twelve regions and they spent about a month in each one and the camp did move slowly. With the sleds and wagons and all the livestock the speed was at a crawl and the kids were running around playing as the group moved forth.

The twelve clans did consist of both humans and elves and the races did live together in a very symbiotic relationship, both capable of things the other can’t. There were also a group of dwarves travelling with the clans, they were smiths and carpenters and they fixed the ovens and did also help the elves find water when it was a drought. The dwarves could sense water moving through the bedrock and knew where to dig and how deep, and they never missed. The chief was riding with his group of elite warriors, they did keep a keen eye on the surroundings for even though there were no enemies there who would dare to attack such a huge group one could never be too sure that wolves or other predators didn’t try to snatch a sheep or a calf.. The winter was a peaceful time, the monsters did rarely show up when it was cold and thus they had time to do other things but someone would always be alert nonetheless. One could never be too sure and nobody dared to take any chances.

The terrain was not as flat as some perhaps would guess, the horizon was flat enough but the landscape had small pits and valleys and here and there rivers had cut into the terrain and created canyons, large and small. They knew every rock in their land and how to cross the rivers and avoid problems but that didn’t mean that it went smoothly all the time. The wagons in special were vulnerable and the dwarves would run from wagon to wagon checking the wheel rims before they were to cross a river. The rocks could make the wheel burst and then they stood there in cold water and had to fix it before anyone could move an inch further.

The moving of the camp was tiresome but they regarded it as a very joyful event for they would be heading for fresh pastures and new scenery and the women who were riding on the sleds and wagons would sing and chat while the males tried their best to impress.

This autumn had been special, the Ath’ir had sent his Si’ish off to find the girl who was foretold to be his bride and everybody were very excited. The humans had never met his previous wife and they had just heard the tale of her but the elves were after all immortal and many of them remembered her and they crossed their fingers and hoped that this new wife of his would be a better person.

Ahravan was riding his favourite horse, a giant stallion he had been given when it was a foal since the previous owner had been foretold that the horse would kill him if he kept it. No inhabitant of the plains would ever just kill a horse and so he gave the animal to the Ath’ir who accepted gracefully. The horse wasn’t the normal silvery or golden colour but raven black with a golden shine to the coat and the mane and tail was golden, Ahravan had named the horse Ayr’esh which meant Swordblade and the stallion was very brave and capable of running for hours at top speed but nobody else was allowed to ride him and he would throw anyone who tried. Ahravan did stare at the horizon, they would soon make camp for the night, in two days they would arrive at the designated camp site and they used the same sites each year and knew the way to them like the back of their own hands. The year had been a good one, the livestock had grown fat and strong and most of the females had given birth too. The herd was their wealth and there had been many babies born too, it was a good sign.

The cold wind did tell the tall elf that the weather was turning and he made a grimace, it meant that it would be rather cold and he was a bit worried for the youngest members of the clans. They would be wrapped up in sheep hides and put in the warmest spots of the tents but still there was a certain danger.

He waved an arm and the front riders sent a man back, Ahravan saw that it was one of the human warriors, a lean and elegant man known as Sehvar and he grinned and pushed his cowl back. “My lord?”

Ahravan pointed at the greying skies. “I don’t like those clouds, how far away is the first campsite?”

There were several potential campsites along the route and the man spat and made a grimace. “Half an hour, maybe one if the wind picks up”

Ahravan nodded. “Good, we will make camp there. Send the gatherers out and tell everybody to prepare”

The gatherers were young men and women who had been given the task of finding fuel for the camp fires. The plains were rather open with little trees, just a small groove here and there and they were sacred so nobody would ever fell a tree. Instead the huge caravan did burn cow dung and the gatherers did spread out with huge sacks and started to gather dung from last year. The piles could be found everywhere and by now they were bone dry and would burn rather well. It was a sort of competition, the youngsters were trying to be the one who gathered the most sacks and they were running around like a pack of bunnies. Ahravan had to grin, he had once been among them but that was a very long time ago now. They saw the camp site now, it was a flat little plain shielded by a tall cliff and Ahravan let out a sigh of relief. He was a war chief but the people did regard him as their leader also when there were no wars or battles to be fought and he felt the responsibility all the time. He hated to lose anyone, and even if the humans did die of old age he didn’t want anyone to leave this world too early. They had lost two hunters this summer, both had been surprised by a flash flood and drowned when they were fishing in a canyon river and Ahravan had been furious for days.

The camp site was easy to prepare, they just set up simple tents now and built fires in the firepits which had been covered the last time they had come this way. It was a swift job to clear them out and soon fires were burning and tents erected all over the place.

Ahravan made sure that the wagons were placed alongside each other to form a wall which shielded the camp from the wind and he erected a tent of his own. He missed Rhawan, they would often share a tent and Ahravan had felt lonely ever since Rhawan left. They had rarely been apart since they swore to be blood brothers. Rhawan was perhaps a rather reckless person who was a bit too impulsive at times but he was able to handle danger very well for he was a quick thinker and Ahravan knew that it was a good trait to have. Ahravan preferred to analyse a situation before he did anything and that could be wise but also dangerous. The two of them did complete each other and they were extremely close. Ahravan did trust Rhawan with his life and that was the reason he had sent his Si’ish off to get that girl. Rhawan would be able to determine what sort of person she was and thus warn Ahravan if there was something he needed to be aware of.

Ahravan sat down by his small fire and warmed some water, he was fond of tea like all of them were and prepared it very strong and sweet. Honey was one of the things they did get form the humans of the inland mountains and it was very precious. He knew that he used his fair share of the jars they got each autumn and he had to grin, he had a sweet tooth and couldn’t deny it. He wrapped his thick cloak around himself and stared into the flames, normally Rhawan would keep him entertained with silly stories and endless bragging about his latest conquests and Ahravan sighed. The seer had really caused a lot of uproar, he hadn’t really wanted to get married again and least of all to a human being, he just knew that he was going to have to change a lot in order to be able to live with that girl and he didn’t like change at all. He still remembered Safya, she had been a gift and he had tried to be grateful but he had seen through her right away. Her father had loved her, beyond doubt, and she was a very spoiled person already when she came to him. Some humans did seem to be unable to really see what sort of flaws they offspring had and Ahravan had tried to love Safya but failed.

She had been a very tall woman with thick black locks and dark eyes and a lot of passion too, normally he would have loved that in a woman but she was passionate in the wrong manner. Her tribe had very little to do with the twelve clans and they had a very different view on life and that had caused problems from day one. Safya had been furious when she discovered how close he and Rhawan were and she was constantly accusing him of being unfaithful. He had tried to explain their lifestyle to her but she refused to listen and many had been angry at her. To her two males living together was a sign of sin for sure and Ahravan had been rather tired of her constant complains.

In the beginning she did her duty in bed with a sort of fake show of submission and he hated it, she pretended to be pious and chaste and in reality she was rather insatiable. But she would never confess to liking it, no way, she always acted as if it was a huge sacrifice to go to bed with him and Ahravan had grown tired of her before two years had gone by. She tried to ruin the relationship between him and Rhawan and she did almost attack any female who dared to speak to him. Ahravan had figured out that the best way to deal with her was to simply buy her off, gifts usually made her as sweet as a pit of honey for a couple of days and then he would escape the sour nagging and that was extremely precious. He gave her jewellery and nice gowns and whatever and thus he did keep her happy most of the time but he felt miserable. It wasn’t a marriage, it was…he couldn’t even describe it and he was feeling relieved when she started to age. It was not a very nice manner of thinking but he couldn’t help it. He refused to lay with her and he did know that she did try to seduce several of the other elven males of the clans but they refused, knowing what she was after. When she died he did bury her with all the right rituals and he felt more relieved than ever before.

Safya had wanted to give him an heir and he had seen how she was with the kids of others and he had refused to impregnate her, he didn’t tell her that elves can do that and neither did the others. She was treating children like accessories and he had seen her hit a kid who ruffled her dress. So he lived with her constant nagging and knew that she would have raised a son or daughter to be on her side completely. In some ways he felt sorry for her for she saw having kids as her main purpose in life but there was no way he would want an heir with a mother like that. The title of Ath’ir wasn’t hereditary and she just couldn’t understand that, she believed that any son she bore him also would be Ath’ir. So her world was rather small and her understanding of it even smaller.

Ahravan was very nervous when he considered this new woman who was to become his wife, she came from an area of the inland mountains which was very isolated and also very old fashioned. People in there were ruled by superstition and an utter lack of true knowledge and Ahravan was afraid that she would be like Safya. If she was of simple birth then she could be a person who never would be able to adapt and he knew that the seer had said that great joy would follow but he did doubt that. He stared into the flames again, he couldn’t disobey the gods, but he had rarely felt less tempted to follow their orders. The people of the inland highlands were a group of blockheads the way he saw it, they seemed to think that everything which didn’t include toil and misery was sinful and what sort of life was that. Alright, they didn’t live for that long but then they should really embrace that tiny sliver of life they did get. Safya had been so shocked by the fact that the twelve clans saw it as completely fine to have many bed partners and even partners of the same gender. The fact that several couples lived together was also something she tried to put an end to but no matter what she did the members of the clans just laughed at her and told her that this was how it was done there and if she didn’t like it then she didn’t have to sneak around spying on others. Ahravan made a grimace and took a sip of the tea, she had just been the type to interfere with everything, even his orders. She obviously believed that she knew all there is to know about fighting enemies but Ahravan had been forced to ban her from the council meetings for she went ballistic when the other war leaders refused to listen to her. It wasn’t that fact that she was a female and a human being, it was the fact that she tried to give orders when she had no authority to do so, and bad ones too.

He had to snicker, the times he had to carry her out of the hut, kicking and screaming, it had been humiliating also for him for among his kin a marriage was like a dance, you did cooperate, you didn’t try to cause problems for the other part of the relationship. There had been some good moments, all had not been bad but when he looked at it in retrospective the whole thing had been a disaster from one end to the other. He did want a family, and someone special to love but he had no idea of what the price of that would be. He and Rhawan had been the thing he had put his faith in and he was afraid that this new woman would disturb their deep friendship. Ahravan was about to find his bedroll and go to sleep when he heard some disturbing sounds from the other side of the camp, it was screams and shouts and he got back onto his feet within the blink of an eye and ran off. The screaming continued and it was a child which did most of it. Ahravan did feel his heart sink, something had to be very wrong when there was such commotion.

What he saw made him gasp and grasp his blade, a tiny girl sat pressed up against the cliff and in front of her Ahravan saw a giant snake, it was thicker than the girl and the head was hovering high above the terrified child. The others there were afraid to get nearer in fear of making the terrible creature attack and Ahravan swore. It was a sort of snake which was very rare but also feared. It lived deep in the sand and it was blind but hunted by following vibrations. The wide flat head was moving from one side to the other and it was trying to find the child but the girl had stopped screaming and sat as still as a mouse. The children there were trained well and knew how to behave and she was petrified but able to think in spite of that.

Ahravan saw that the snake was rather skinny, it had probably gone into winter hibernation in the dunes around the cliff and now the activity had awakened it. He was thinking fast, bent down and grasped some small rocks and he gestured towards the child. The clans had a sort of sign language they used when hunting and even the children knew it. The girl nodded and Ahravan threw a rock at the cliff some meters away from her, the snake immediately turned its huge head around and the jaws opened, this snake didn’t have fangs like normal ones. Instead it had hundreds of needle like teeth placed in several rows and the bite was said to be so terrible the pain alone killed. The poison was terrible too and made the flesh dissolve and Ahravan threw a second rock and judged the speed of the snake. It was rather sluggish and he gestured to a couple of the elves who had gathered there, in shock and fear. Nobody dared to move out of fear of triggering the snake and Ahravan signed a swift order. Nobody hesitated, they followed his order right away and started stomping their feet against the ground, in a heavy rhythm. The snake turned around, the vibrations came from all over and it got confused, not knowing where to strike and where to go. Ahravan took a deep breath, then he ran forth, swift as a wind with light steps and he knew that the beast wouldn’t notice his presence before it was too late. His sword was very sharp and made from the best steel, he had worked on keeping the edge razor like and he did jump towards the snake with a powerful leap and brought the blade down with all his strength. The blade did pierce the body right underneath the head and he cut it almost in half. His momentum tore the blade lose again and he landed on his feet, bringing the sword back up for a new attack. The snake was letting out some ghastly hissing sounds and it was writhing and trembling. The tall elf ran past it, making a sweeping cut and now he did finish the cut and the head fell off. The body collapsed into tremors and he grasped the kid and ran out of the danger zone. The blood of this snake was very hot and acidic and could seriously scald you if it hit your skin.

The body fell silent and he shook the blood of his blade and delivered the kid to her hysterical mother, the warriors gathered and many came to pat his back or squeeze his hand. “Such a great idea, you confused it”

One of the dwarves stood there and nodded his head, Ahravan smiled and felt that he in fact was a bit shaken. He hadn’t noticed when it all happened. “Yes, they are very sensible so too many feet at once should have an effect”

He turned to the warriors. “Check on the horses and cattle, where there is one there could be more, and place a row of bonfires around the perimeter.”

He took a deep breath, if Rhawan had been there he would have insisted on them both getting royally drunk to celebrate the victory and then Rhawan would go out seeking someone to bed and Ahravan would have been alone again. He saw that the kid was unharmed but scared still and went over to the healer to ask him to give the kid something which would enable her to sleep without getting nightmares.

Afterwards he returned to the tent and sat down to have some more tea before bed. As an elf he didn’t have to sleep that often but the march towards the next goal was tiring even for one as strong as him and he needed the sleep now. He drank a little, got rid of his jacket and jerkin and laid down in his bedroll wearing just his thin inner pants and a tunic. The bedroll was made from thick furs which had been treated so they were silky soft and still very warm and you could keep warm even when it was very cold. Before long he was fast asleep and the entire camp was quiet. Some were guards and stayed awake but most of the clans slept through the night, they needed their rest.

Ahravan was dreaming and it was a good dream, he was riding over the wide plains on his large horse and there were nothing holding them back, it felt like flying over the grass. It was the freedom he always had loved, the open landscape and the knowledge that it all was for him to explore. Then the dream changed, he was suddenly in a cave and there was a pool in it, like in the sacred cave of the seer. The cave was lighted by fat lamps carved into the very wall itself and it looked like a very old place. He was there and yet not, as if he was just a spirit watching a scene from the realm of the soul. Then he saw someone approaching the pool, it was a woman and she was naked, just covered with long hair in a most amazing tone of auburn and red and it looked like dark flames against her skin. She was staring at the ground in front of her as she walked forth and her movements were very slow, as if she was afraid. Ahravan saw that she was human, not very tall and very elegant with lovely curves in all the right places. He wondered why he was dreaming this and he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was truly gorgeous and he wondered if she was real or just a phantom of his mind. The hair was very rare, he had never seen anyone with that sort of colour before and her eyes appeared to be green and grey in a strange and very enticing union. She walked into the water and it reached her waist, she was wetting her hair and then it looked as if it became blood as it reached the water, it was a bizarre sight for it was impossible. The water turned red all around her and she turned around and he could have sworn that she was looking straight at him. “Remember this, the love of one, the blood of two, the power of three, the promise of four”

The dream changed again, abruptly! He gasped and opened his eyes, feeling confused and slightly startled. It was getting light so he got up and started to redress and reroll his bed. The camp was being packed away again and he found some food and then he got his horse and mounted, still remembering that strange and ominous dream. What in the name of every deity had the meaning been?

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