Our first post! This is part one of a three part story. The next installments will be posted on Wednesday and Friday.
To say that Tiris was staring at Chana would be inaccurate; in giving him the gift of prophecy, the gods had seen fit to take his eyes from him. There was nothing behind the bandages that covered his sunken, empty eye sockets that could see her alabaster skin, her dark brown hair, or the worried expression that marred her otherwise fair face.
Still, it could be said that he was watching her as she entered his spartan tent, the few belongings he owned kept to the edges while he sat in the center. Whether by virtue of his finely tuned hearing or by the powers the gods had granted him, he tracked her every step, even fixed his countenance on where he knew her face to be. “Thank you for coming, my lady.”
Chana frowned. Tiris had known her since she was born, had been her father’s own advisor. Whatever her tribe thought of him, be he blessed or cursed, she saw him as family. The old man only ever addressed her as “my lady” when some dire thing had been revealed to him in one of his visions. “What have you seen, Uncle? Your servants told me that you awoke with a start, that you said your vision had been a matter of life and death.”
A flicker of a smile played across Tiris’s face, the corners of his mouth moving up ever so slightly and lifting his greying beard with them. “Nothing, my lady. I have seen nothing.” Chana groaned. The joke was always the same, and she mentally scolded herself for not having phrased her question more carefully. Tiris chuckled to himself and went on, “But, the gods have been whispering things to me in my dreams recently.” His smile disappeared. “Many, many things.”
“You look troubled, Uncle. What have the Seven shown you?”
“Ko-Ta of Southlake will be paying you a visit soon.”
“Oh, wonderful. It’s always such a treat when the son of the enemy decides to venture across the Great Lake and spend time with us.”
“I can hear your sneer in your voice, my lady. You mustn’t do that. It ages the face, you know. Makes you less beautiful.”
“Hush, Uncle. Surely that was not all that you had to share with me? The coming of a nuisance is hardly a matter of life and death.”
Tiris frowned. “No, that was not all. But the other dreams were not so clear. I saw a desert. A tomb. A tomb with something not quite dead in it. And there is a death.” The old man’s head dropped as if he could not hold Chana’s gaze. “But more than that, I cannot say.”
Chana’s eyes went wide. She could not remember the last time the gods had shown Tiris a death. Dying was a simple fact of life in the world. People died of illness and injury and old age. They mourned and they moved on when they could, taking comfort in the knowledge that the souls of the departed joined those of their ancestors in the All-Father’s kingdom. For the gods to have warned Tiris of a passing must have meant that there would be grave repercussions for her tribe. Tiris’s own death, perhaps.
Or perhaps hers.
The old man shook his head. “I don’t know, my lady. The gods did not see fit to show me. I will mediate on this, and perhaps more will be revealed to me in time. But,” Tiris said with a chuckle, “your guest will be here within an hour or two’s time. You should make preparations.”
Chana glowered and looked away. “I don’t know why he insists on coming to see me himself. There is nothing we need to discuss, and even if there were, it would be more fitting to send an envoy or meet in neutral territory.”
“Child, it doesn’t take a diviner to see why he makes these trips himself,” Tiris said, that faint smile pulling at the corner of his lips once more.
Chana snorted and turned to leave. The seer simply sat as he had, smiling to himself for a while longer before turning his thoughts back to the matter of interpreting the visions the gods had sent him.
* * *
Chana was waiting at the Great Lake’s shore when Ko-Ta’s craft pulled in to dock. She stood in the bucksin cloak she had inherited from her father, the one emblazoned with symbols taken from artifacts the Old Ones had left behind, plants and animals and strange geometric designs. Her arms were crossed and her impatience bloomed into true annoyance when Ko-Ta waved at her from his boat. He grinned at her guilelessly, his boyish expression suggesting nothing other than genuine pleasure at seeing an old acquaintance. But they were not acquaintances, she reminded herself, and she had not once ever felt pleasure at seeing him.
Ko-Ta leapt from the boat as the two men who had accompanied him set about tethering it to the dock and unloading their things. He walked over to her and took her hand, his dusty-colored skin making her own look all the fairer. He was a head taller than her, with broad shoulders and the athletic build of a hunter. Like his father, he was not content to simply sit in his home and rule his people from a distance. Unlike his father, he was a good-natured man, quick to laugh and smile.
“Well met, Chana! I didn’t expect to find you waiting for me.”
“The gods told Tiris that you’d be coming, Ko-Ta,” she said, deliberately making it a point not to return his greeting. “I thought it best that I be here in person. No sense letting you and your men wander around Northlake looking for me.”
Ko-Ta smiled at her but his eyes were humorless. “As friendly as ever, I see.”
Chana sighed. “It is the planting season, Ko-Ta. There is work to be done, and I cannot spend all of my time entertaining. I trust you’ll understand if I ask you to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“My father is dead, Chana.” Ko-Ta said. His expression and his tone betrayed nothing; he simply stood and watched her, awaiting her reaction.
Despite herself, Chana felt a pang of empathy for the man. She knew what it meant to lose family. She had held her father’s hand as he joined their ancestors three winters ago, had wept for as long as she could before she was forced to compose herself and tell her people what had happened. She uncrossed her arms. “I am sorry to hear that, Ko-Ta. Relations between our tribes have been tense for generations now, but I understand what you must be going through.”
Ko-Ta nodded. “Thank you. But I did not come here in search of comfort, Chana. Within a month’s time, I will be the leader of Southlake, and I would like for our peoples to be allies.”
Chana said nothing, but she could not keep her face from betraying her surprise. Ko-Ta saw this and smiled. “I am not my father, Chana. I know that your people once lived all around the Great Lake before my grandfather lead my people into these mountains from the west. I know that it was he who encouraged them to make Southlake their own. And I know that many times our own fathers nearly spilled blood over old hurts and anger. I don’t want that and I don’t think that you do, either.”
“Our fathers agreed to peace, Ko-Ta. I have a copy of the covenant they signed in my home, as I’m sure you do as well.”
Ko-Ta laughed. “Those are just words on paper, Chana. I have come here to forge a new covenant with you, one free from the prejudices of our fathers. One that may serve both of our peoples, instead of leaving them fearing a knife in the back when they venture too far from their homes”
Chana watched Ko-Ta silently as she considered the sincerity of his words. For as much as he liked to act the fool, she knew Ko-Ta to be a shrewd, calculating man. He was certainly more patient than his father, more likely to let old rivalries and feuds die out if it meant reaching an end that benefited his people. Ko-Ta’s father simply did not possess the ability to forgive.
Nor did her own, if she were being honest with herself.
But did she?
How well could she say that she really knew the man before her? She saw him as a braggart, but was he not in truth an accomplished hunter and a good leader to his tribe? He was the son of the enemy, but whose enemy? Hers? Her people’s? Her father’s, three winters dead now? As the leader of her people, should she not be strong enough to put aside her distaste for Ko-Ta? The lands of Southlake were flatter, better suited for sowing and harvesting crops. To open up real trade with them, to know that her people could hunt the lands around Southlake without fear… were those possibilities not worth hearing what Ko-Ta had to say on the subject of peace?
She thought back to a day when she was young, just a child sitting on her father’s shoulders as they walked through the Fields of the Dead, where the Old Ones lay beneath stones and statues worn smooth by the passing of the years. Where the heroes of her own tribe had been lain to rest after they had gone to the All-Father’s kingdom. “This is a place of honor,” her father had said to her, “as sacred as any in our land. For as long as our people have lived around the Great Lake, this land has been holy in the eyes of the All-Father. Blessed are those who rest here.”
Her father had not been laid to rest in the Fields of the Dead. In his final days, he had accepted it as inevitable, but she had never forgiven herself for not marching on Southlake with a cadre of warriors and taking back what had once been theirs. But perhaps this was a better way.
She nodded. “Very well, Ko-Ta. I would like to see our peoples as allies as well. But for now, I’m certain you and your men are tired after making your journey. Let me show you to your quarters for the night.”