Friday, April 11, 2008

Faith: Glory, Glory

(Part three of an ongoing series. Parts 1 and 2.)

But despite Thera's words, there were delays yet. There were many tribes in the valleys around them, and Thera's tribe, the Beckoners, were not the largest among them. Thera had thought, filled with vim and vigour, she might simply lead her people to victory.

"Let us go!" she told her sworn youth, the day after she gained leadership. "We have youth, strength, and the Right behind us. We will crush our foes!"

Her followers looked reluctant.

"We'll do it if you order us, Thera," Rob, older than Thera, said after a moment. "But there's a lot of world and a lot of people in it, and I don't think we can kill them all. That's why we used to send out missionaries."

Thera sighed. "Yes. And they all came back without their heads." She waved her hand, dismissing the others. "I'll tell you when I decide on our next move." Jared smiled reassuringly at her as he left, and Thera waved back before returning to the desk she'd taken from the War-Leader, staring at the maps on it as though she was going to kill their inhabitants with her mind alone.

"Missionaries," she said to herself.

After a silent minute, she continued, "But we never get missionaries from other tribes. Hardly anyone visits at all, in fact. The most we get are..."

She sat up straight, transfixed. Slowly, as though afraid to let the idea escape, she whispered, "Emissaries."

Two days later, she met with her coterie of sworn youth once more. "I want two volunteers," she told them. "Willing to fight. We'll be leaving the village for two days - maybe more. No-one must say why."

Most of Thera's sworn volunteered. She chose two: "Robert. Sera." They ran to get their belongings, and Thera, her voice filled with surety, told the others, "This is the beginning. Remember it. You were here."

The tribe of the Sindahar lived one valley away from the Beckoners, to the southeast. They'd been there for longer than anyone remembered; some thought they might be the original inhabitants. It was before their chieftain that Thera, with her two companions, now appeared.

"We would have alliance with you," Thera said formally. "The Intaki, to the west, are weak, and their lands are filled with food and treasure. Let us attack them together, make an end to their tribe, and together profit from their passing."

"And what guarantee have we that you will not betray us?" the Sindahar chieftain asked.

"You will have our oath," Thera told him, "And we will fight at your side."

The chieftain shook his head. "No. It would take more than that. Much more." He gave the gesture to dismiss her.

Thera refused to move. "I will give you more," she promised.

Surprised, the Chieftain asked, "As much as it takes?"

Thera nodded.

On her return to her tribe, Thera was called to an audience with the Great Council.

"This is unacceptable!" the Interpreter shouted. The others of the Great Council, five old men and women, scowled with him. "You have promised everything to these barbarians, these sacreligious apostates! Ten goats, five-hundred old coin, and half a dozen of our children as hostages! And for what? To plan a senseless and unjustified attack on one of our oldest neighbours!"

Thera twitched, but that was her only response to the outburst. "I promised only what was necessary," she told the religious elders calmly and coldly. "The Sindahar would have taken everything we have for this alliance; as it is, I have gained it for only a part of our treasure, and gained a half-dozen hostages from them besides. And for the matter of the attack - is it not my responsibility, our Sacred Duty, to do just that - not once, but again and again, until the work is done?"

"It is not your role to say!" an Interpreter shouted. "You are but a child - how can you claim the right to lead us, without any qualification?"

Thera spoke. "I am in the right."

"Have you nothing else to say in your defense?" she was asked.

Thera did not.

"The agreement is annulled," the Interpreters declared. "The hostages will be returned, and you will be dismissed as soon as we find a suitable replacement. By tomorrow, at the latest. Then, we will find a suitable punishment for your insolence!"

Calmly, Thera walked out of the temple. The children gathered around her, while the other tribesmen looked on from a distance. "What will you do?" they asked. "We could hear them shouting from outside!"

Thera smiled, unperturbed by events. "Meet me tonight," she told them, and would say nothing more.

Three of the Interpreters vanished from their homes. The other two reassembled in council the next morning, hastily annulling their decision to strip Thera of her rank and ordering the goods and hostages to be collected to seal the agreement with the Sindahar. Thera had already gained certain allies in the tribe; adults older than she who thought that she led them well - some, already, who believed in her. At her advice, the remaining Interpreters appointed three of these to fill the missing slots in the Great Council. If they were worse religiously versed than most of their predecessor, it was not so much as to invite open comment. Not around Thera, at least.

Thera urging them ever onward, the Beckoners prepared themselves for battle. Old weapons were brought out of storage, new ones were quickly forged. Fathers taught their sons, mothers their daughters, how to hold a spear or fire a bow. Then, within a week's time, all was in readiness. The Sindhar and Beckoner armies met atop a ridge; they marched together to strike the Intaki. And Thera, not the old Sindhar chieftain, was at their head.

No comments: