The Song of War

Chapter 2

They found a roaming Tribe already on their first day on the Longpath. Kiikri their name was, announced their drums as was custom on the Longpath, named after a small rodent of the Huenantli, and in the name was their whole history as far as Cuatal could tell. A small tribe, perhaps great once but no longer, edged out long ago from the Mother Oasis, during the Time of Absence, when the Ukunfazane had left to know the world and learn how to carve a place for her people. Bhokali suggested the tribe was too small to risk making them Bound; they were too few to be of benefit compared to the resources they would need and a small roaming tribe could spare. Antekki disagreed, claiming a Bound Warbred was always of benefit, but Shukuan simply grunted she would cost in lives more than in resources. So, they stayed on the road and did not flee from them and the Kiirki simply passed them by, even as they eyed hesitantly at Shukuan.

On the second day, they found a monument on the side of the path. It was a carving of a featherless bird, carved on the side of the path as it traversed a crevice, put there by a tribe called Shakaa’Ti, which none among the company had heard of before. It marked the day of the tribe’s first passing through the wastelands, again during the Time of Absence, only to be swallowed by the Wastelands or be destroyed by another tribe, most likely remembered today probably only by this monument and the tales of the Cult of Famine. He’d ask about it, thought Cuatal, when they reached Talethirst, partly out of a feeling of reverence for an entire tribe lost and partly out of sheer curiosity. They camped around the stone bird that night for there was a well-hole on the rock. The next day, Bhokali started leaving early and roaming in the Wastelands proper, scavenging for scraps to keep them going.

Until the fifth day the path had been empty, and tension had begun to rise among the company. Everyone was hungry, fed barely enough to be sustained. Bhokali, as she had expected, was the first target of everyone’s frustration, with Antekki accusing her of eating more before she brought back food. No one commented, least of all Bhokali, and the matter rest, but Cuatal began to share Bhokali’s concerns about hunger. Luckily, the next day, game was found, or at least Wastelands game, some few dozen dust mice that Bhokali brought, ululating with joy.

On the seventh day, they found Pokkal. He saw them before they saw him, as they were sitting under a rock’s shade in midday. He stood in the middle of the path, sword drawn and ready, but eyes hollow and dark with hunger and thirst. Still, he screamed his name with might when he saw them appear, his voice travelling like thunder over the Longpath.

“The tribe’s champion,” Bhokali said. “Many tribes still abide to the old custom of travelling the Longpath once per generation, even if by sending a champion to do it in the Tribes name. He must be starving. He will challenge us for food and water. One of us, at least.”

Cuatal nodded and sure enough the challenge came.

“Stand still, for I am Pokkal of the Dessert Snakes!” the warrior shouted. “Spare your food or spill your blood, as the Longpath demands!”

Shukuan shrugged, drawing her great club as she got up, but Cuatal sighed, seeing the warrior’s posture deflate. To his surprise, the Warbred paused, looking at him.

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