John Horne

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XVIII. A Confrontation on the Plains

January 28th, 2008 · 3 Comments

After a strong embrace, Carlten stepped back to look Garyth over from head to toe. “I thought you were finished growing, but look at you. Your mother will hardly know you. She and the rest are fine and in good health. They all send their love, along with a few remembrances that are in my saddlebag. Xond has certainly taken good care of you.”

“There is so much to tell you,” Garyth said, “but we will have a few days in Dryish before we leave.”

Garyth then called out a clan greeting to Samir and added, “The herd can be seen from the other side of the pass!”

Samir welcomed Garyth’s news. He was also happy to hear a Xenarian greeting once again and responded in kind. He had had difficulty understanding Steven at first, though with time and Samir’s coaching, Steven’s use of Xenarian had improved.

While Samir turned his attention to Cafton and Kurt, Garyth spoke to Steven, greeting him warmly. “I guess you found our high valley without going astray. How was Hinton when you last saw him and did you see Terry?”

“Hinton struck a deal with your parents for some wool, so he was well satisfied when he left us at summer’s end. As for Terry, she is happily spending the winter with Randal and your family. I hated to leave them, for they had enough food for two winters and seemed prepared to have a wonderful time.”

The news that Terry was spending the winter in the high valley was a shock to Garyth, but before he could question Steven further, Carlten stepped forward and said, “Garyth, this is Allynd from Riverhaven, the presiding elder over the Assembly. With him is Gregory from the South District. The three of us, plus a representative from Dryish, are empowered to draw up border treaties with Xenar and hear whatever else may be said. You and Steven will be aides and translators for the delegation.”

Garyth introduced Cafton and Kurt to the group, and then they all mounted up and headed through the pass for Dryish. Garyth and Carlten trailed behind the others so Garyth could continue to catch up on family matters and hear the story about Terry. They paused where the pass opened on the eastern side of the ridge to gaze out over the plains. Samir seemed very glad to be in sight of home once again. Garyth explained that Xond expected Samir to ride out to the clan encampment to let them know the delegation had arrived. Xond would send clansmen with the promised Xenarian horses for the group, and while they waited for the horses they would bed down in Randal’s house.

“What do you think of Terry?” Garyth asked Carlten.

“I don’t think she will want to leave when we get back,” Carlten said. “In fact, I think that both Terry and your grandfather have joined our family. I had two months to train them both with the farm and herd chores and felt myself no longer necessary after they caught on. Your sister Sarena really seems to love the high slopes. She had developed great skill with the herd by the time Terry showed up, so I wondered if Sarena might resent having her around. But they got along wonderfully from the start. I think they will have a great time this winter.”

Upon their arrival in Dryish the group split up to eat supper in different homes. Early the next morning, Samir took the two Xenarian horses to Cafton to remove their shoes since they were no longer needed. Then he rode down to the plains and headed for the herd that had been visible from the pass.

The weather remained cold, but sunny and clear, so Carlten and Garyth sat outside and did more catching up. Carlten mentioned Smyth’s history book, which he had carried back to Smyth when he rode through Bridgeboro with Samir and Steven. “It seemed every place we stopped, the mention of either Hinton, Smyth, or your name opened doors,” Carlten told Garyth. “There was one village, this side of Hampton, where the magistrate even gave me money. He said it was yours; a reward for bringing in some bandits. I left the money with Roysen to hold. Randal had mentioned something about the incident and it didn’t sound important, but the people of Windsal think you are a hero.”

“Gizzer and I were only defending ourselves,” Garyth explained.

“Roysen sent a pair of boots that he made for you, and your mother sent a new blanket. She is worried that your clothes are all worn out.”

“She is more right than wrong,” Garyth said. “I have two Xenarian robes and I traded antelope antlers for these boots at kolsar last fall. Gael, Xond’s brother’s wife in Xandar Tahn, kept my Wyeland clothes to use as a pattern. She will have a new shirt and trousers for me when we return to the city. You will not believe your eyes when you see Xandar Tahn. I have never dreamed of such a place. They light up the night with oil lamps and do business long after Wyelanders would be asleep in their beds.”

“There is a story behind how you got antelope antlers and what ‘kolsar’ means. You must start from the beginning and tell it all,” Carlten said.

So Garyth told the tale of his travels through Wyeland and his adventures in Xenar. Carlten asked several questions when Garyth spoke about Bron’s map of the northern mountains. The story of the spy atop the Councilhouse also interested him. He had never heard of a comdar or similar device in Wyeland, but he thought it was a practical idea. He was relieved to hear that Garyth had had such a nice birthday with friends.

“We expected you to be back home for your birthday and I am glad it turned out well. I have been riding a Xenarian horse that Randal brought to the farm. They are wonderful animals. Samir is a master with horses and has taught me much. It must give you great joy to own such an animal. Hinton is going to bring a draft horse next summer in payment for a load of wool. His horse Jessie was a big help to us during his visit last summer. As for Xandar Tahn, you have made me very curious to see the place. I was impressed with Crossways and Lowell, but what you have said of Xandar Tahn is hard to imagine.”

The villagers gathered at Cafton’s barn that night to choose a representative to be part of the delegation. Both Borin and Cafton had the backing of the villagers, but Borin declined, explaining that he could not leave his work. He volunteered to help Ursula and Kurt if Cafton would represent Dryish. Cafton appreciated Borin’s offer of help, for he wanted to make the journey. He hoped it would open the door to obtaining Xenarian horses. Garyth’s stories had made him long to see Xandar Tahn, so he gladly accepted the opportunity. The village was very supportive and the group was well provisioned during their wait in Dryish.

About the middle of the fourth day, a group of riders were spotted on the plains coming toward the village. Garyth rode down the slope to greet the clansmen bringing horses for the delegation. Samir was not with them, but Garyth had no problem conversing in Xenarian and hearing the news from the camp. He learned that the scout had seen armed Golians congregating to the southeast without their cattle. Xond took this to mean there may be a confrontation, perhaps even bloodshed. He was calling the other western clans together as a show of strength to discourage the Golians from mounting an armed attack. He felt that the combined strength of the western clans was more than a match for the scattered clans north of the great Golian desert, but he knew a fight would spill the blood of his countrymen and renew old feuds.

The horses sent by Xond were prime specimens and Garyth sensed Tarn’s excitement at being among his cousins once again. By the time they arrived at Randal’s house a crowd of villagers had gathered. It was a pleasant welcome for the Xenarians, with Garyth making the introductions. The village held a bonfire that night to honor both the delegation and the Xenarians. There was an abundance of food, each household bringing its specialty. Garyth had never attended such a gathering in Wyeland before. An old shepherd named Jake played a fiddle while several of the couples and some of the children danced. The night was cold and the fire was hot, so people burned on one side and froze on the other, but no one seemed to mind. The party broke up when the young children started to drift off to sleep in their parents’ arms.

The group left at sunrise with some of the citizens of Dryish gathering in the frosty, cloudless morning to bid them farewell. Garyth left his borrowed clothes with Ursula and put on a clan robe for the trip. The horses seemed eager to get back down onto the plains and the delegation made good time, stopping briefly at noon to build a fire for heating their lunch of bread and sausage with hot herbal tea. Just before daylight failed, they rode into a comfortable camp at the base of Xolandin and were greeted by Xond and Samir along with several clan elders. The clan’s winter camp was three day’s ride east of the hill, but Xond had wanted to meet the delegation and talk for a day. It gave him a chance to brief them on what he knew of Golian actions relating to the delegation and the upcoming meeting in Xandar Tahn. Cafton shared his account of the visit by the three horsemen in Dryish and submitted the Golian ornament for inspection.

“I believe the band of Golian horsemen, which our scout reported, will ride north,” Xond said, “probably to the area where the Falmir clan has just moved their winter camp. All three western clans now have scouts watching the Golians. I am sure they know we are watching them and they have no idea what will happen. Nevertheless, they are Golians and will fight to the last man against heavy odds if they think there is no other course open to them. If we encounter them we must act with great care. We have held council with the other western clans and all agree we should meet them with strength. To Golians, an open show of superior force will tell them we do not want conflict. They know we could send a small group to lure them into battle. I assure you that you are in no danger while you are under our protection. My hope is that the northern Golian clans will realize they have far more to gain by opening friendly trade relations with Wyeland and Xenar than by maintaining a hostile position.”

“If Wyeland is to deal with Golians, we have a lot to learn and would appreciate your help and advice,” Allynd said.

“Of course we will be happy to assist as we have opportunity,” Xond replied. “But perhaps our concerns are for nothing. We will know soon enough.”

That night they ate well and went to sleep early. Arising with the sun the next morning, they set out for the clan’s winter camp. Their arrival, for Garyth, was another homecoming, and after more formal introductions, he enjoyed taking the Wyelanders around to meet personal friends. As night fell, the whole clan gathered for the kind of celebration that Garyth had attended with his grandfather last summer. He remembered his amazement then and enjoyed watching Steven’s delight in the acrobats and jugglers. Garyth himself juggled three grass balls to show off for the newcomers. It was great fun for everyone.

They were in the saddle again early next morning heading east. This time Xond and Samir rode with them along with two other herders and several supply horses. The supplies were wrapped in skins, but Garyth suspected that one of the horses carried bows, arrows, and spears. The weather held fair and they rode at a brisk pace, resting for several hours through the middle of the day. They slept in simple, one-man tents, but they ate well. One of the herders accompanying them was an excellent cook. Garyth took Steven hunting with bow and arrow during one of their mid-day rest periods and they brought back pheasant for the evening meal.

A lone rider joined them on the fourth day, bringing news that about two hundred Golians were moving north to intercept them. Xond had arranged with the other clan chiefs that riders from the three western clans would converge to protect the delegation. The delegation altered their course toward the north to ride closer to Falmir’s camp. Not long after sunrise the following day they were joined by one hundred eighty horsemen from the Falmir clan. They slowed their pace so that horsemen from both Xond’s clan to the west and the Sindin clan to the east could join them.

Six days out of Xond’s winter camp, the small group of travelers were surrounded by over five hundred armed clansmen, spread out over the plains around them. They camped close to the Falmir herd, for Xenarians had used their herds to turn the tide of battle in times past.

At noon the following day, word came that the Golian riders had halted half a league to the south. The Xenarians moved into a tighter group and rode toward the Golians, who were outnumbered by nearly three to one. The two groups faced each other at a distance of three hundred paces while Xond and Samir rode out to meet the Golian chieftain and his aide.

The Golian spoke first. “Greetings Xond, horse-brother. Has your army been victorious and captured a group of marauding Wyelanders?” He smiled at his own joke.

“My clan brothers are escorting our honored guests from Wyeland. What brings Golians onto our grazing ground?” Xond answered with a steady gaze into the man’s eyes.

“We thought it had been too long since we visited with our cousins to the north. You do not seem pleased to see us. I am Darl, chief of the northern clans, and this is Fend, my lieutenant. We have come a long way. I hardly expected to find a Xenarian chief entertaining Wyeland strangers.”

“You have called me right, Darl. I am Xond and this is my son, Samir. You have come upon us with our friends, not with strangers. We were told of your approach some days ago. Were I to visit you in Golia, I would ride with gentler provisions. We do not visit our friends with bows strung and spears in stirrup. I was not aware our customs were so different.”

Behind Xond, the Xenarian riders were slowly forming into a single line of horses stretching off on either side.

Darl laughed, “We Golians sleep with our bows and spears. These are our traveling provisions, gentle or not. Perhaps you would introduce me to your friends. I did not know a Wyelander could stay in a saddle. I would like to meet these people.”

Samir signaled a herder who told Garyth to ride out with Steven and Carlten. Xond and Darl were silent until the three joined them.

“This is Carlten of Wyeland, a hero to his people. Beside him is his son, Garyth, an adopted horse-brother to my clan. And this is Steven of Farnsworthy, a man familiar with your own tongue. They journey with two members of the Wyeland High Council to Xandar Tahn where matters of importance to both nations will be discussed.”

“It is a pleasure to meet such distinguished foreigners. I have heard of Carlten. Ask Carlten if he had knowledge of how we burned the Sindal battle fleet in the Bay of Carplay when he laid his ambush of fire.”

When Xond turned and translated Darl’s question, Carlten edged forward and said, “Yes, the idea of using fire to stop the Sindal advance on Riverhaven came to mind because of Carplay.”

Darl was pleased with this answer. It meant that the story was told and appreciated in Wyeland. “Are you a general in your country?” he asked.

“No,” Carlten replied. “I raise goats for their wool in the northern mountains, far away from Riverhaven and the Wyeland Assembly. I am simply a free man and a goat herder.”

When Xond translated this, Darl moved closer to Carlten and extended his hand in a gesture of friendship. “Three nations, three herds,” Darl said, as he exchanged a forearm clasp with Carlten.

As they returned to their places, Darl said, “It disturbs me that Golia was not invited to this parley to which you hasten. Perhaps it was an oversight.”

“I think not, Darl,” Xond answered. “Golia has never indicated an interest in talking with its neighbors, though I do not doubt that the clans of northern Golia could benefit from talks and open trade. Perhaps you should visit us again in the spring to arrange it, leaving your army at home. Your brothers beyond the desert in southern Golia are legendary merchants as well as strategists. You could probably teach us a few things about trade. Tomorrow is another day.”

Xond’s expression was less stern. He had been surprised at the interchange between Darl and Carlten. His last speech now afforded Darl an opportunity to back off from a confrontation.

Darl put his hand on the hilt of his beautiful Golian blade and muttered, “Perhaps we could teach you many things, but we have ridden far. It would be a shame to return without some token of our visit into Xenar.” He gazed at the distant grazing herd. “We graze hump-backed cattle. Do you think bison could thrive further south?”

“Bison are harder to control than cattle,” Xond replied, “especially in the hot months of the summer breeding season. We move our herds north through the summer to get them into cooler weather and calm them down. But you will never know how well they will do in the south unless you try. ”

“How is our credit with our northern cousins?” Darl asked. “I could take a few animals back and bring payment next summer.”

“The herd yonder is tended by the Falmir clan. I will call Falmir to join us if a trade is making,” Xond said, turning and signaling to Falmir.

Falmir and a clansman joined the group in the space between the Golians and Xenarians. Xond explained Darl’s interest in obtaining bison to take south.

“You would leave me with the risk, for if the animals did poorly, you might blame me and refuse full payment,” Falmir said to Darl. “But you do not need credit since you have something with you that would be good for trade.”

“We brought no gold, and we need our horses. What would you have us trade with?”

“Every man among you has bow and spear. I can see that many of your arrows are tipped with iron. We know that Golians would shun shoddy weapons, even for peaceful visits. Trade your weapons. I have no doubt you have many more back in your tents.”

Falmir’s offer took the Golian by surprise, but he saw an opportunity in the trade. “Now your blood speaks,” Darl said. “Six weapon sets per animal, not counting swords. We have more arms in Golia, but you are right, we only bring our finest to visit our friends.”

“I had ten sets per animal in mind,” Falmir replied. “When we trade bison for weapons with Xandar merchants the exchange is twelve good sets per animal.”

“You won’t find the quality of these weapons in Xandar Tahn,” Darl answered with a sneer. “These arrows will pierce a hide shield as though it were a leaf.”

“Your iron points will pierce shields made of cattle skin, but our shields are bison hide,” Falmir said. “I will trade for ten sets per animal and deal for swords separately.”

“Set up a shield,” Darl challenged, “and if my arrow fails to pierce completely through it I will trade on your terms. If the arrow breaks through, will you trade on mine?”

Falmir thought for a moment, eyeing the iron points in the quiver by Darl’s stirrup. “From what distance?”

“I will shoot from three horse, a good distance in a battle,” Darl replied. Plainsmen used the length of a horse as a measure of short distance. Three horse represented about ten paces.

“I accept your terms,” Falmir said, “but the point must pierce completely through the shield.”

Xond dismounted and walked a few paces from the group. He stuck a spear in the ground and leaned his shield against it. Darl turned his horse and trotted back to about ten paces. He glanced at Xond who nodded approval of the distance. Darl touched several arrow points to select the sharpest, then drew it in his bow to the full length of the arrow. The shot didn’t require a lot of accuracy, but he hesitated a moment as if putting a spell on the arrow before letting it fly. The arrow hit with great force, but the point lodged only halfway through the shield.

Xond recovered the shield and examined the arrow. He handed the shield to Darl. “You did better than I expected, but we trade ten sets to one animal.”

Darl made the best of it. “Your shield is indeed hard, all the more reason for us to acquire bison, even at your outrageous price.”

“Then you will carry the terms to your men?” Xond asked.

“My clan brothers will abide by the terms I set,” Darl said. “We will need good strong animals, both male and female.”

“Of course,” Xond responded. “Samir and Fend can collect the weapon sets while we ride to the herd for the selection. You will have to keep close watch on the animals you take for they will smell the herd for several days and want to return to it. I invite you to send several herders next year to live among us and learn bison lore. Find out if any of your men wish to trade their blades.”

Xond had expected the Golians to retain some arms, but the demonstration with the shield had convinced them that bison had strategic value. Every man added his weapons to the stack. The weapon count paid for nineteen bison and Falmir threw two more cows into the deal as a gesture of friendship. The Golians were less willing to part with their swords, since the blades were usually family heirlooms, but six swords were traded, adding another twelve animals to the total. Darl seemed satisfied with the outcome. Xond hoped that the experience had convinced Darl that trade among friendly neighbors could benefit the isolated Golian clans. It was a bit tricky to separate the selected animals from the large herd, but there were plenty of experts with torches on hand to assist. Soon the nearly unarmed Golian raiding party was on its way south with their small herd of bison. Several clansmen rode with them to give them pointers on controlling the animals.

“We will keep an eye on them until they are back in the southern hills,” Xond told the Wyelanders, “but at least Falmir has their weapons. They can cause trouble later and I think the people of Dryish should take defensive measures, but herding bison can be as hard as making war and as hurtful, if they value pain. They may never be quite the same.”

“For too long we have taken their hostility for granted,” Gregory said. “I think it is time to build stockades along our southern frontier while we talk to them about mutually beneficial trade. They seem to understand strength. I never realized their aggressiveness sprang from contempt for the people of Wyeland. I have learned much already on this journey and hope to learn more.”

“You should express that to the Council in Xandar Tahn,” Xond said.

The massed Xenarians departed for their winter camps and the travelers continued eastward. By late afternoon they were out of sight of the Falmir herd, once again in the center of a circle of grassy emptiness turned golden by the sinking sun. The weather had been almost cloudless for days, but as the sun fell each evening, the western sky never failed to present a spectacle of color. Every evening they sat in a circle around a small fire and talked. Xond loved to hear Garyth telling the Wyelanders stories about Xandar Tahn. Samir also recounted his impressions of Wyeland and its people. They had become a group of friends who found their differences more interesting than threatening.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Peter // Jan 31, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Hey Ruth, I found a “Carlton” in there!

    Also, I seem to have forgotten who Gregory was.

  • 2 Ruth // Jan 31, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Yikes! Say it ain’t so! Not a “Carlton”!! Would you believe me if I said I left it there to test your acuity? Nah, I didn’t think so. Actually, thanks, and hopefully we can get it fixed.

    Gregory, from the South District, is first introduced in the seventh paragraph of this chapter.

  • 3 Peter // Feb 1, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you for the refresher (and it looks like you’re still on top of your game; the typo is gone). I blame my weakened state for the lack of recognition.

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