Friday, June 29, 2012
Legends of Joshero
This is an incomplete short fiction piece I did a while back, set in Chirak. Maybe putting it on the blog will inspire me to finish it. This tale focuses on an adventure of legendary Espanean adventurer Joshero, in the lands of Sabiri (about a great deal more of which was presented on the blog earlier this year).
Legends of Joshero:
Invaders of the Sun
In twelve hundred years, not a single member of the Ha’cathan clan had seen so many men crossing the Valley of Atharam. “Perhaps there are twenty thousand or more, just like the messenger said,” commented Ihamac. The young, rangy Sabiri man scratched absently at a sore spot on his chalk-white skin where the darkened leathers of his jerkin had rubbed over many days ride.
“No my friend, there are more than that. Many more.” The larger, older man beside Ihamac was not Sabiri, and bore the rugged, handsomely dark features of the Espanean islanders. His garb was Sabiri-made, however, and bore the same tribal markings as Ihamac. Although he was no member of the Ha’cathan clan, he was widely regarded as their friend and ally.
“We had best inform the camp that there is no good fight to be had here, not unless Kobal himself should stride forth on the field of battle to win the day for your kin. These Helians are a dangerous lot, and they march for war. But whither they travel, I cannot say. To the east, most likely, when they exit the pass. Perhaps they mean to siege Westgate, or Fartheren. Those are the only cities in this barren land of any worth.”
He spat out a wad of tobacco, a good local mix, and then reached for his pouch to pinch more. “Let’s ride.”
Ihamac nodded eagerly, and rushed down the slope from their vantage point to retrieve the immense Sabiri war stallions which relaxed in thick fields of grass near a trickling stream. “You are very wise, Joshero!” He called out. “Many of our warriors would love to fight the Helians, but they would surely die. And for what? So we can stop them from drawing toll on the city dwellers? Hah!”
As the man known as Joshero strode down the hillock to join his young friend, he nodded vigorously. “Aye, right you are. My people may populate Westgate, but I renounced them long ago. Now, lets be about this business of moving the clan out of harm’s way, young warrior.”
Together, they mounted the immense stallions, beautiful horses that strode proudly about in ornate leather barding and woven saddles. The horses of the Sabiri were as proudly independent as their masters. Joshero patted his on the neck as they moved to a trot, away from their observation point. This beast would eagerly ride in to an army of twenty thousand and more, ready to cleave its own share of heads in, he thought to himself. These were good people, who bred good horses.
The two riders made haste, leaving the Valley of Atheram well behind, veering westward, eventually, towards the region known locally as the Fields of Rhamm, after the ancient king of the forgotten Lucari.
Once, around an evening campfire, as the Sabiri enjoyed their drinks made from fermented mare’s milk, Joshero was privy to the tale of the mysterious Lucari. A proud people they were, he was told. So proud, they stood defiant before the very gods of the Apocalypse, refusing to budge from their land, even when the very body of the destroyer, Ga’Thon, fell upon the world to the west, forming the dreaded Cossarit Mountains. For two hundred and one nights they fought off the marauding armies of chaos, until at last their city was buried to the tip of its highest spire in the bones of the dead. Those few Lucari who survived the battle turned from the empty fields of death to once more rest in their fabled city, only to find that it could not be found. The mounds of the dead hid the city so completely that none of the warriors could find any sign of it. Even as they dug through the mounds of mouldering dead, the dreadful magics of the dying god Ga’Thon enervated the land, and sapped the very life from the earth so completely that no living being could sustain itself, and so the Lucari were forced to leave, lest they die. Meanwhile, the women and children of their land were entombed beneath the mounds of the dead, trapped forever more in a terrifying hell, unable to escape the oppressive weight of Ga’Thon’s dying soul.
This was widely regarded as one of the happier tales the Sabiri liked to tell. As dour a folk as you could ever meet, the hard, nomadic ways of these people fascinated Joshero. He remembered asking what had become of the Lucari warriors who left their lands at the end of the tale. One of the elders, a shaman called Ucero, had remarked, “Why, I am certain that there runs within our very veins the blood of the Lucari warriors. For to establish their race anew, they used the wanton magics of the ancients to construct new wives from the white clay of the riverbeds, and bedded these women, who in turn birthed the first of the true Sabiri kin. Such is the reason we have the chalk grey skin that marks us apart from all other men. Such is the reason we have no mirth, for the Lucari knew nothing but suffering. And finally, such is the reason we have no gods save the demiurge Kobal and his wife Amorgas, for we are self-made people, in the truest sense. Sabiri are the way of the future, untainted by the ancient magics which ended the world and the gods of old.”
Joshero took that to be a folktale with more than a grain of truth to it. These people probably did descend from older stock, survivors of the Apocalypse. Folk as practical and hardy as the Sabiri were destined for survival.
The journey back to the camp of clan Ha’cathan took six hours. Nestled within a wide ravine where a favored water-hole was located, the people of Ha’cathan tended to their horses and bison, worked leathers, harvested local seeds, smoked meats and tended to daily life as usual. The Sabiri were sophisticated, as nomadic people went. They were fine metalworkers, though they preferred to barter with the western Pelegar for metal wares when they could, for they were poor miners, and had mastered bronze but found iron and steel to be exceedingly rare. Joshero was welcome among the Ha’cathan for this reason, among others. The prince-chieftain, Mave’tos, knew Joshero to be a master smith from his native land. And he knew the secret of folding steel upon itself to strengthen a blade to amazing hardness. Joshero had promised to make Mave’tos a broadsword of such folded steel, in exchange for the hospitality of the prince and his people.
As they entered camp, young men and old alike came out, to swarm about the two riders, asking them many questions. Apparently, Joshero and Ihamac were the first two to return from scouting.
In the distance, the women clustered about, studying Ihamac coyly behind their prolific gold and silver piercings, a popular fashion among the Sabiri women which Joshero found appealing in its exotic, barbaric manner. The women of these people were far more direct and capable than those of his own kind, he mused. A few glanced his way, as well, including the mysterious and beautiful Mittariin.
As Joshero dismounted, the prince pushed through the thronging crowd of men to face him.
“You are first to return,” the prince mused. “Joshero, you never fail me. What have you seen? Was the messenger from clan Ra’makath correct? Are the Helians invading our land?”
Mave’tos was a tall, lean man, powerful even in his middle years. He was adorned with many ornate runic tattoos, the mark of a powerful magician among his people. Some said he had given himself over to the Spirit of the Asp, though others claimed he was bound to no animal spirit. The magic of these people was foreign to Joshero. He did not understand their totemism, which was nothing like the classical occult arts he had learned in Espanea.
“My prince, they are many more than the messenger claimed, but aside from that, everything he said is true. They are Helians, and more. I am certain I saw mercenaries from the region of Zann amongst their kind, for they carried the reed tower shields and spears of those people. I also saw orcs out of Gurzatt, the beastly sort, hard to mistake with their barded armor and wicked snouts.” He shook his head. The men around him cursed and spat. Sabiri despised all orcs, who were said to have sprung from the blood of Shaligon as it spewed from her neck to the earth in the Apocalypse.
“Do they march on us? Joshero, if they come to slay my people and take our ancient lands….” the prince asked intently. He looked ready to fight, though Joshero knew better of him. The prince was a public braggart, ready to defend his people. Privately, Joshero knew him to be a man of peace. He would much rather his clan lived to father a new generation than die in a massacre.
Joshero continued. “It seems that they travel with the intent to siege. Among their swollen ranks I spotted many wagons loaded with the means to lay siege to high-walled fortifications, such as ballistae, catapults, ladders and towers. Most were parted out, for ease of travel, which means they have a long time yet before they reach their intended goal. I speculate that they will turn east when they leave the valley, and make their way for the coast. We are not their target.” No, he thought to himself. My people, the Espanean colonials of the coastal cities, are certain to be their target. There was nothing else in this accursed land of endless hills and plains that could possibly interest the Helians, he mused.
Ihamac stepped in. “Joshero thinks we should move away from this area, my prince.” His voice shook a little. The young man was growing gutsy, Joshero mused, to speak directly to his prince. From around them, cries of dismay at running from an enemy rang out. The Sabiri were a people laden with machismo.
The prince stroked his narrow beard. “Aye, Joshero knows the right of it, for we are not kin with the city dwellers of the coast, though some of our own have succumbed to such soft and wayward lives. We will move our camp to a new location for now, and await the passing of this army. Should they seek us out, we will stand then and fight. But I will not spill any blood for the men of the coast.”
Clever, Joshero mused. Mave’tos sidestepped the issue of the army passing through clan territory, using clan resources from the land, by drawing upon the timeless enmity of his people with the colonials and progressives of his own kind. Why die for men who had turned their backs on the only true way to live in harmony with the land, indeed? Hah!
The crowd began to break up, as Mave’tos and his sons barked orders to men and women alike to begin breaking up the camp. Tents would be disassembled, children rounded up, food and other goods bundled for travel. There was a lake, some thirty miles west of here, far from the path of the army, and hidden in a basin which no Helian could possibly know of, said the elder shamans of the clan. There, the people would be safely hidden by the spirits of Kobal until this untimely interruption had passed.
Joshero set about to aiding the family who had accepted him in as a blood brother. Ihamac was the youngest son of the family, and the best tracker. His father, Thatarac, was a grizzled old veteran of many seasons at the age of forty, with three strong sons and a single daughter. His wife, Eshebi, was heavily involved in clan politics, and an esteemed priestess of the Cult of Amorgas. Josheros found them good, plain hearty folk. No deceptions, no pomp and circumstance as he would find among his own family.
“Joshero, it is good that you are with us. The prince values your council.” Thatarac greeted the two near his family tent, grasping hands with Joshero, then patting his youngest son on the back. Eshebi brought out a skin of fermented mare’s milk for the men. In the shadows of the tent Thatarac’s daughter smiled coyly at Joshero. She was barely fifteen summers, but already commanded the attention of the young men around her.
“Thatarac, you have have been a fine host. I shall help your family prepare for the journey.” Joshero joined his host family in preparing for the journey.
As they worked to disassemble the tent and pack their wares and possessions on to the backs of the travois which would drag behind their horses and bison, Eshebi approached Joshero. She was of middle years, like her husband, but held her youthful looks well. “Joshero, perhaps you should work on our smoke tent. I think…..someone would like to see you.” She smiled slyly. Nearby, her daughter giggled. He shrugged. Though it was considered taboo for Sabiri women to lay with foreigners, he seemed to have transcended the relationship with this clan to a new plateau. At least one woman, Mittariin, had taken advantage of his newfound status.
It was while Joshero worked the knots out of the leathern straps on the tent used to smoke meat that two slim, ashen grey arms adorned with silver ringlets snaked around his waist. He smelled the heady cinnamon scent of oiled perfumes in his nostrils, and felt the firm, muscular curves of a woman firmly against his back.
“You will leave soon,” the woman said in thickly accented Espanean. It was one of the traits which most attracted Joshero to Mittariin, her desire to learn of other lands, other languages. He turned about and lifted her from the ground, hugging her slim form tightly to him, her black leather buskins tight against her bodice. Her long black hair cascaded across her shoulders, barely concealing a line of silver earrings running down each ear, and the prounced studs which marked each corner of her full ebon lips. By the Sacred Stones, Mitariin was woman enough for him!
“You presume too much. I like your clan. I wish to travel with your people for a long time. And you are far too desirable to be left alone for some other man to claim!” She giggled quietly at this. In some ways, he knew mittariin was as outcast as he, for she was an orphan, who had been adopted in to the clan when she was only five summers. Found on a battlefield where her clan had been annihilated by a war paty of Kraggit orcs, Mittariin had no clan lineage to inherit, no bridewealth to make her more appealing to any other than another wayward soul. Like himself, Joshero thought.
“Joshero, I have known you a short time, but I see much honor in you. You will not let an army march on your own people, even if you have renounced your ties to them. It would not be right.” She paused a moment. “When you go, take me with you.” Her deep grey eyes looked up in to his, pleading. “I have no one here. No one save you.”
Joshero pulled her even tighter, stroking her ebon tresses. “If that is what you wish, you will. But I have no plans to leave, yet. I must first see to it that the clan is taken to safety, and perhaps then I shall discuss this matter with the prince. You are right. I could not live with myself if I allowed my kinsmen to die before this horde. Though they would gladly throw me to the wolves, I must never do the same.” How this woman knew him so well, after only a few weeks with her, amazed him.
Together, they finished disassembling the smoke tent, and loaded it on to a travois for transport. Within a matter of hours, the entire community was gone, packed and loaded on the backs of the horses and bison that were the sabiri lifeblood. Together, the community of some two thousand nomads began the westward journey to the Lake of Eshual, in the hidden basin.
It was a day later, as the great caravan moved across the rolling hills of grass to their destination that the scouts were spotted. Along a southern ridge line, a trio of mounted rider appeared. They seemed to study the carvan with some interest until a half-dozen young warriors broke free of the caravan’s trek and charged the observers. The distant observers turned and fled, pursued by the whoops and cries of the horsemen, who fired volley after volley of arrows.
When at last the warriors returned, they dragged a corpse behind them, strung to the largest of the stallions. Mave’tos rode forth to study the victim of the impromptu war party. The body had the hairless ebon skin of the men of Helios, and wore light quilted pauldrons, bronzed cuirass and padded gauntlets and greaves. He was riddled with barbed Sabiri arrows.
“The other two escaped, though badly wounded,” said the lead warrior. He was agitated. “Their horses were light and swift. I believe they were scouts for the army.”
Mave’tos nodded. “Unfortunate that they escaped. They will report that we are out here, and may come looking. We must make greater haste. You,” he gestured to the lead warrior. “You will find fifty men who will take up watch behind the caravan. Drag brush behind your mounts to obscure our trail, and stand watch for any signs of pursuit.”
Joshero rode forth at this time, reigning in beside the arrow-riddled body. “If your shamans are on good terms with any elementals, I suggest drawing their kin down in wind and rain to help obscure our trail.” He dismounted and squatted down beside the body, studying a peculiar image hammered in to the bronze curiass of the dead man. The image was reminiscent of classic sun symbols, with a trio of eyes centered in the solar disk.
Mave’tos kicked the body. “You seem to recognize this symbol,” her remarked.
Joshero shook his head. “No, that is the problem. I have never seen this symbol before. And I can tell you that it is not the symbol of the Empire of Helios. The three eyes are a symbol of sacred trinity, though. I saw that once, in the texts I studied in my homeland. They represent the phases of time. The past, the present, and the future. The eyes reflect our observation of this passage. It is a very old symbol.” He shook his head. Mysteries upon mysteries with this strange army from the south!
It was nightfall when the caravan reached the crest of the ancient basin in which Lake Eshual rested. The caravan crested the rim and began descent along the ancient path that was known only by the Sabiri. Joshero had never seen this basin before, and in the moonlight he could barely make out the sparkling expanse of a large, ancient body of water, several miles in length.
As they journeyed toward the lake’s edge, Joshero noticed numerous odd, ancient boulders which protruded from the ground along the path. As he passed close by one, he realized that it was carved stone, in the image of a great, ancient head. “Gods fallen,” he muttered to himself. “what manner of deviltry be these?”
Mittariin, who rode quietly beside him on her gray mare, perked up. “You see the stones of judgement, once the source of powerful ancestral magic. In times forgotten, when our people were united under one banner, these immense stones were watchers and guardians, imbued with the souls of our most revered ancestors. They spoke to the truth within every man’s soul.” She grew quiet for a minute. “Some among us can still feel the spirits within, wondering why we have forgotten them.”
Joshero nodded, as he fingered the pendant of his old order around his neck. “I sense it. They radiate faint, but very old magic. They may be older than you think. I saw similar idols once, in a region called the Thousand Islands.”
Mittariin nodded, thoughtfully. “Islands, and Espanean word. The Sabiri have nothing in our tongue for a body of land trapped by water. Promise me you will take me to see these wonders, one day.”
Joshero laughed. “Aye, I shall. One day, when I am good and ready. With you at my side, I shall.” He could almost see Mittariin’s eyes sparkle as her mind’s eye imagined such wonders as the tropical islands from which Joshero hailed.
When at last the caravan reached the open flats near the water’s rim, they found the rough stone foundation of an ancient structure, perhaps a citadel of some sort, Joshero mused. Even so close to midnight, the clan pushed quickly to dismount and begin assembling their tents in the new location. Before dawn, it was as if the community had always been there. Joshero, who had worked through the night, was exausted, and quickly took to bed inside Thatarac’s tent.
His deep sleep went uninterrupted until late in the day, when he awoke to the image of Ihamac leaning over him, shaking Joshero furiously. “Come!” he shouted. “The warriors arrive, and they have another clan with them!”
Joshero stumbled out into the afternoon sun, to stare in the distance at the advancing party. Indeed, the warriors sent to guard the caravan by the prince were closing in, but in their midst were what looked like a curious mix of Sabiri, mostly women, children, and the elderly. They had many horses, but only a few bison in tow. The women were wailing, a keening noise that Joshero had never gotten used to. It meant they grieved for the dead, for dead husbands and sons.
The people were refugees of clan Ra’Makath, the first Sabiri clan to encounter the army. Indeed, they had sent messengers out to allied clans with warning of the approaching horde. It was just such a messenger which had alerted the Ha’cathan.
When Joshero arrive, prince Mave’tos was deep in conversation with a stately older woman, the wife of the now dead chieftain of the clan. “They were set upon by the Helians,” he commented to the Espanean as he arrived. “She said that a man named Korvair leads the army, and he told them that they must join his ranks or perish.” It went unsaid that no Sabiri would ever submit to the rule of a foreigner, especially a Helian.
The woman stepped up. “Yes, our men held rank against the horde while those who could not fight took flight. We had hoped they would follow, that perhaps some of the men were able to escape the assault and follow in our retreat. But we have not seen a one.”
Mave’tos shook his head. “Then they died honorably, and shall be judged well in Kobal’s eyes. Your clan is safe with us. We shall protect you here, along the shores of the sacred lake.” And with that, the Ha’cathan reached out to embrace their sister clan in their sorrow.
Later, Joshero sought out the prince to speak with him. “Mave’tos, I grow concerned that this great army is not all it seems. They move under an ancient banner with arcane significance, and they would dare to try and conscript a people well known to be as unfettered and defiant as your own. I have spoken with others,” Mittariin, he thought, “who feel that it is necessary for my honor that I journey to my kinsmen in the cities to the east, to warn them of this danger.”
Mave’tos grimaced at Joshero. “I would not advise this, but understand your need. As we must protect our kinsmen, I understand why you should wish the same for yours, even if you have been cast out from them. If you must go, take some men with you. I am sure there will be volunteers, to aid you on the journey as guides and protection.”
Joshero nodded. “I need the help of but a few. With permission of his father, I have found Ihamac an excellent scout and guide. And I should wish to bring one other, the woman Mittariin with me, if you will permit.” Mittariin, as an orphan and adopted of the clan, held Mave’tos as her spiritual father, and was his property until released to another man.
“I so will it, you will do well for Mittariin. My son, Cavela’tos, will also accompany you. He is a strong man, and knows the lands better than any in the clan.” Mave’tos stopped, and gripped Joshero by the shoulders. “My friend, you have not yet made my fine steel broadsword as you promised, nor have you taught me the secret of folded steel as is common amongst your people. Do not forget this.”
“I always fulfill my debts,” Joshero grasped Mave’tos and hugged him firmly. “For a woman such as Mittariin, I shall also make you a parrying dagger to accompany the sword. Do not worry, my friend. I have faced much worse in my time.” And Mave’tos knew this to be true, as did any man to look in the depths of Joshero’s haunted eyes. Many years had he traveled the great expanse of the Realms of Chirak, and numerous were his trials and adventures.
It was decided that haste was the order of the day. Joshero gained permission from Thatarac to take Ihamac with him on the journey, which delighted the young man to no end. Cavela’tos sought out Joshero, dutiful to his father’s wishes to aid this significant friend and ally. This son of the prince, second oldest of six, was tall, muscular, and reknowned for his archery on horseback. He kept his hair short and he wore only one tattoo, the mark of archery, from which he could conjure forth unerring marksmanship. Cavela’tos wan a man of few words, though, always choosing wisely those rare moments when he did speak.
Mittariin was last to join the party, appearing in tight leather jerkin and breeches, dyed the traditional black, with a short saber and bow ready. “You can fight?” Joshero remarked, and she punched him in the arm.
“I am Sabiri,” she responded. “It is what we do.” And that was that.
The small party left the encampment just before dawn the following morning with little fanfare. Celebrations were for the victorious. It would be a long time, Joshero mused, before he could claim such accolades.
The journey eastward was swift for the four travelers. During the journey, Joshero noticed more than one occasional, curious glare from Cavela’tos directed at Mittariin and himself. During their first night around a dark camp, for it as agreed that to make fire would be unwise, Joshero caught Cavela’tos staring at him in the moonlight. “What troubles you?” He suspected he knew, but decided it was best to confront the young prince now.
“I am baffled. My father has given you Mittariin. She should not be with a foreign man.”
Joshero nodded. “But she is orphaned. Your father may give her to whomever he wishes. She would contribute nothing to your station…” Cavela’tos glowered and then moved away from the circle of the camp. No more was said of the matter.
Later, resting in his arms, Mittariin whispered in Joshero’s ear. “The prince covets me. He has spied upon me from afar for some time now, but his father would never permit such a relationship. It would be inappropriate. He envies you.”
“Aye, I suspected as much. He had better get over it. We have no time for childish games out here.”
That morning, as the sun loomed over the western crest of the Cossarit Mountains, the party broke camp and resumed their furious ride east. It was late in the day when the smoky trail of the vast army was spied.
“’Tis larger than I thought,” Cavela’tos muttered.
“With such a force, they must mean to crush all of the colonials. There will be no negotiations with these people,” Joshero shook his head. “We must turn to the north and ride with haste to break around the army without passing too close to their scouts and stragglers. If we are found out, then our purpose becomes mute. Thanks be that such a force is only as fast as its slowest units, and that those great wagons of theirs are finding the wretched turf of this land difficult going.”
Joshero and his crew rode hard and fast for days upon days. Once, they avoided a patrol of scouts who appeared to be with the Helian army. Another time it was a rival tribe of horsemen, Sabiri who were drunk with the power lust brought on by the sanguine affections of their Demon-God, Boolion. But despite these obstacles, Joshero and his haphazard band arrived at Fartheren, westernmost of the old colonies, and the first city to lie in the path of the advancing Helians.
Joshero wasted no time in making brazen entry in to the parlor of the Espanean governor of Fartheren. With Mittariin riding behind him, and Ihamac and Cavela’tos riding to either side, he made for the gates of the governor’s palace, sending the surprised and amazed guards scattering. The gates were wide open. Why wouldn’t they be? Fartheren had not been attacked in eighty years, not since it was taken by the Sabiri and turned in to a proper city of trade for the nomads.
“By the devils, it’s Joshero!” one of the two guards shouted out. “Riding like Perdition’s on his heels, as always.” The older guard dusted himself off from where he had thrown himself.
The other guard fumed in anger, and went to ring the alarm bell. “I’ll alert the palace, we have a madman loose!”
The old guard put his hand on the cord. “Aye, that we will, but it’ll be to let them know Joshero is back, and he wouldn’t be riding like that unless something awful comes. We’d better be ready.”
When Joshero bounded from his horse, shoved open the wide double doors to the palatial suite of the governor, and marched his way forth in to the man’s private chambers, it was with a determination he had not felt in years. His love may have been for the barbarians of this land, but his loyalty was with his people, his countrymen.
So it was that Joshero, sweat-caked dust and grime covering his body, wearing the leathern armored hides of a Sabiri warrior, stood before the pristine and elegant countenance of Endraberdo, the acting governor of Fartheren for the Espanean colonists.
“My lord,” he stopped but a moment, then bowed slightly. “I come bearing terrible news. There is a foreign army advancing, possibly Helians from the south and west. They head directly for the colonies of Espanea. I have abandoned my position with the Sabiri that I once asked you for permission to allow me to indulge in, sir, that I could warn you of this impending disaster.” Joshero studied the man carefully. Was he going to disregard the warning, or would he appreciate the full imperilment this heralded for the Espaneans of Fartheren?
The governor smiled. “Joshero, my son, you are ever the alarmist. You see an army and simply assume hostile intent. No, my son. We will not fear this supposed threat you claim to have seen.” He turned to look out through a stately window to the dusty fairgrounds outside.
Joshero was mute with astonishment. “You cannot be serious. The city will be destroyed!”
The governor shook his head, and then gestured to his right. From a side door behind a curtain stepped a tall, lean sabiri man with chalky skin and an elaborate series of runic tattoos. It was Madvaros, the lord of the Fire Tower. He let out a wide, sickening smile laden with sharpened teeth. Four more men, armed soldiers of the fire temple, poured in behind him.
“You bastard,” Joshero muttered. “You sold us out.”
END PART ONE