The Blood of the People: II
The Kas Armada was a mighty sight to behold. Crimson sails stretched as far as the eye could reach and even in its glory days, Noxborough would tremble in front of such a Great Power.
As the ships landed, the mood in the city shifted altogether. It was unlike anything Juniper had ever witnessed. The whole city stilled, silenced, as everyone gawked in awe when the hundreds upon hundreds of longboats carrying soldiers, men as women, rowed in impossible unison across the bay.
Bannermen stood at the bows, holding the blackened canvases adorned with large, red suns. They brought with them weapons, armour, and horses bigger than any mainlander had ever seen. The Saathenaan and the ohkasenon waited by the docks to receive them properly.
The Vasaath was nervous, and it made Juniper nervous as well. She didn’t want things to have to change more than they already had, and she had a feeling he didn’t either—but that morning, a very special ship sailed amongst the arriving armada, a gigantic ship with a large, golden figurehead. It wasn’t just the army coming, but the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon as well. Things were going to change, indeed.
Juniper was dressed in the gown Kasethen had gifted her and she had carefully laid her hair in a flattering but modest braid, all to make the best first impression she possibly could make. She was pleased enough with her appearance, but she doubted looks would be enough to impress the Great Mother.
What made her even more nervous was the Vasaath’s wish that she stood next to him and Kasethen as they welcomed the guests. It didn’t feel right, but he insisted. It gave him courage, he said. Even though she was rather used to welcoming important guests, it did not feel as though hers was the face these people wanted to see.
As the longboats docked and rows upon rows of soldiers set foot in Noxborough, the Vasaath received respectful salutes from every one of them. These men and women, both Kas and ohkasenon, were smaller and lither than the soldiers Juniper was used to, yet impressive enough to cause fear amongst their enemies. They ranged in all ages, from rather young to quite elderly. They did not wear as many markings, nor did they carry the same black armour, but they marched with the same poise and stature as the elites.
Juniper watched as the arriving warriors lined the streets, creating a pathway all the way up towards Fairgarden—there must have been thousands of them streaming in, and the longboats dragged from the water quickly filled the boathouses and were stacked in large, neat piles along the outer walls. It was a march that never seemed to end, and she wondered how so many people could fit in a city of this size. She glanced up at the Vasaath, astonished by how he could maintain his serious and stern face for such a long time.
An hour later, a longboat with golden lining docked. A tall, regal woman stepped ashore, with long, red robes that floated in the wind and shielded her tall frame.
In her jet black hair, there were golden rings that glittered in the sunlight, making her hair sparkle like a jewelled sky. Her face was stoic but beautiful, with high cheekbones and voluptuous lips; her golden eyes were bright, her neck was long, and despite her gracefulness, she was powerfully built with broad shoulders and a square yet feminine jaw.
Her steps were light, as if she was floating, and behind her walked an older man, with just as much importance in his steps.
He was shorter than many of the other Kas, and certainly not as muscular. His silver-streaked hair was long and silky, making his sharp ears peek out from underneath the mane; the man had drowsy eyes and heavy eyelids but sported a content smile as he gazed out over the docks.
The Vasmenaan and the Vasenon, as different as any two beings could be, stopped in front of the Vasaath and greeted him with a nod and he returned their respects.
They spoke to each other, but Juniper knew not what they were saying. The Vasmenaan spoke with a deep and sensual tone, smooth as a song, and the Vasenon spoke slowly, thoughtfully. As she observed the three leaders, she felt in awe—she had always considered the Vasaath to be a very powerful man, but in the company of the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon, his authority was somehow balanced.
Suddenly, the Vasmenaan’s golden gaze settled on Juniper, seared into her soul like an all-knowing eye, and she quickly looked away.
Her heart quickened, her breath was short—she could have sworn the woman could see through her, see her innermost thoughts and feelings. She hadn’t heard her name, but she could swear they had talked about her nonetheless. She wished not to draw any further attention to herself. But the Vasmenaan did not address her, and the two started along the road the soldiers had lined with the bannermen in the front.
The Vasaath followed, and soon, Kasethen did as well. He gestured Juniper to walk with him and she was relieved to have his support.
“There are so many,” she whispered to him.
Kasethen, still having some trouble walking, huffed. “Yes, well, this still isn’t everyone.”
She gawked at him. “No?”
Kasethen shook his head. “No. There are still many left on the ships. I doubt they brought the entire Saath, but I’d reckon there are twenty-five, if not thirty, thousand soldiers here.”
Juniper swooned. “Thirty thousand? That’s almost as many as there are in the whole of Nornest! Where are we going to fit them all?”
“Oh, don’t worry. You have plenty of room outside the city walls.” He chuckled. “You mainlanders have all this space, and so few in it! It’s extraordinary. The camp will reach far and wide, but there will be room.” Then he sighed. “I never expected the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon to ship the entire army south, even if the Vasaath had hoped so. Indeed, I never expected them to go south, either. Not yet, at least.”
Kasethen sighed and lowered his voice. “The Vasaath called for the Saath a long time ago. I don’t know what has taken them this long, but the fact that the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon travelled here before they knew we had taken the city—well, that’s not a good sign.”
Juniper silenced and nodded. As she glanced over her shoulders, she noticed four or five Kas tailing them. They seemed rather important, with long robes and turned-up noses, and she carefully leaned to Kasethen and asked, “Who are they?”
Kasethen threw a quick glance backwards and a corner of his mouth curled downwards in a scowl. “That’s part of the Vasmenaan’s and the Vasenon’s courts. Vas-maasas, vas-nemethans and vas-kasethens.” Lowering his voice even more, he said, “I don’t know them all, some are new, but the stern-looking woman is called Baraam, a nemethan you don’t want to cross. The handsome man with the braids is Eloch. Kasethen, like me, but he doesn’t have my sense of humour.”
Juniper snickered. “What do they call you, really? I’ve only ever known you as Kasethen.”
He sighed. “I’ve never really called myself anything else.”
He chuckled. “It’s the way things are.”
Once they reached the castle, the household had worked diligently to make it presentable and grand is such a short amount of time; the violent overtaking only a couple of days earlier seemed to have been nearly forgotten or simply suppressed. It was evident the people would rather be occupied with work than think about what had happened, and what the future might hold. Moreover, foreign royalty was coming.
The journey had fatigued the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon and they sought solitude and silence. They were very polite and spoke the common tongue as fluently as any other of the Kasenon; they complimented the staff for their warm welcome, showed appreciation for the food that was served, but withdrew with respect to resume the dinner afterwards.
Juniper could see in the staff’s eyes that they were relieved their hard work had been well received, even if the visitors declined it. It was one step further away from a death sentence.
The Vasaath was called to join the two other leaders, and he spent an awfully long time with them. Juniper and Kasethen both paced back and forth in the sitting room they had withdrawn to. They were both anxious and burning with curiosity.
“What do you think they are discussing?” Juniper asked.
“They are most certainly discussing the reason the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon are here,” said Kasethen.
“Why do you think they are here?”
He looked at her and sighed deeply. “Well, the situation back home must be getting dire.”
Juniper furrowed her brows. “Dire how?”
Kasethen set his jaw tight and moved to the window. He placed his hands behind his back and sighed. “It’s no secret the winters have grown colder, even here. For us, winters have grown unbearable. We’ve managed for some years now, but it just keeps getting colder and longer.”
He looked at her, his golden gaze dull with grief, and Juniper wung her hands together. She had never seen him this saddened.
“Autumn is getting shorter and spring is delayed a few weeks every year. Last year, the ground didn’t thaw until a moon later than the year before that, and a whole season of crops was delayed because of it. This far south, a month may not matter that much, but that far up north, a month could be the difference between a year of food and a year of famine. We’ve suffered the latter, and it’s not the first time.”
Juniper swallowed hard. Yes, winters were getting colder, but she never would have thought that it would be so devastating. “So that’s why you’re here?”
Kasethen nodded with a frown.
“Why didn’t you just say your people were in danger? I’m sure we could have come to an agreement.”
Kasethen snorted. “You really believe the Vasaath would ever want to present himself and his people as anything by strong?” Shaking his head, he said, “No, he would never want to put the People in a situation where we’d be dependent on someone else’s mercy.”
“So war is the better option, then?” she muttered in response.
“For visionaries like you and I,” said he, “war is never the better option.”
She tightened her jaw and crossed her arms before she nodded. “But for cynics, war is the only option.”
Kasethen sighed heavily. “I’m afraid it is.”
Kasethen – advisor; seer; “wisdom of the people”
Maasa – healer
Nemethan – teacher; wise woman
Ohkasenon – foreign follower of the Kasenon; “follower of the faith of the people but not of the people”
Saath – military; army; strength; protection
Saathenaan – elite warriors; “deepest strength”
Vas – leader; keeper; order