24. Hunting Grounds

When Amar was recovered from his initiation, Lax Ar Fu gave him fifty warriors to command. With these hardened outlaws, Amar vented his rage upon the new Patharki settlement built over the bones of the Lin Tohs Domain. Sneaking into his homeland had been easily done by her vanquished son, and Amar fell upon the Patharki on a cold quiet night when most were bundled deep in sleep. The few sentries were swiftly overrun, and even though they raised the alarm, it was of little help. The marauders torched the buildings and cut down the residents as they fled the flames. Warriors had no chance to assemble a decent defense, and many died in their burning beds.

A rare meat dawn lighted the land when the Kez were mopping up. The last of the dying and wounded were dispatched and Kez scouts ranged into the fields and woods to track down the few who had accomplished a blundering escape. The ankle deep snow revealed their scattered flights and made them easy to hunt.

Amar spared no one. Women and children died alongside their Patharki men. There was no mercy within Amar in the place where his wife and child had died. He did not pretend to call it justice. His hatred had left him as a sick predator loose in the world.

Amar toured the destroyed settlement, satisfied somewhat by the small revenge. A brisk wind carried the smoke away. The snow had melted back from the burning buildings and left soggy sad patches of ground around each hulk of fallen timbers. He knew the Patharki would start over here, which was more than he could do. That tribe was growing and its rat people were breeding into the lands of their lesser neighbors.

Kym came alongside Amar. He had volunteered to go with Amar as had Cybar and Vame. The blunt face of the veteran Kez warrior was alert after the nocturnal massacre, and his eyes bore the same wild gleam as his comrades. All of them were aglow with feral energy after the killing spree.

“We got them all, Amar,” Kym reported after receiving word from the last returning scout.

Amar nodded while staring at the hand of a dead woman that lay across her chest. Her death pose was a parody of peaceful sleep. Without taking his eyes from her, Amar woodenly told Kym that they would camp nearby and leave the next day.

“Where will we go next?” Kym asked.

Some crows squawked in the bare branches of nearby trees and one bold one flew down and landed near the dead woman.

Shaking off his contemplation of the female corpse, Amar answered, “To see Ginjor Rib.”

“Attack his citadel?” Kym asked with shock. It was far too big a task for fifty men, no matter how strong, cruel, and clever.

“No, Kym. Not to attack. To speak with him. He needs to retain the services of the Kez to protect his frontier settlements,” Amar explained. Sweeping his hand around the still smoking ruins, he added, “The Patharki are obviously bedeviled by nomad raiders.”

Kym chuckled agreeably.

In a lightly wooded hilltop across from the grazing commons of the settlement, Amar set up his camp. He had always liked this spot. It commanded a nice view of what had once been the farmlands of the Lin Tohs. To the east rose forested foothills, and looking over them like stern parents were the Rysamand Mountains. The snows were now thick upon the cold foreboding peaks. Amar sighed and thought of Onja. He wondered what her home was like within that colossal fortress of ice and stone where magic held court.

With the smell of the burning settlement on the wind, he fell asleep. The dark peace of his wearied collapse did not last with the restless spirits of his family and lost tribe so close. In a dream his wife came to him. She was warm and sweet and the smoothness of her bare skin took away all the pain. Once more he was Gendahl, young and happy and full of himself.

Then the round sweet face of his baby son smiled to him. The infant was nestled between him and his wife and they shared the tender pleasure of admiring their offspring. The clarity of the dream was bliss. Amar put out his little finger and the baby boy clasped it. He could almost believe in a kind and loving God, but nightmare forces swept in and trampled the dream into the sucking mud of nightmare.

He saw the eyes of his son go cold and dead. Blood spattered his wife. In the nightmare, Amar lurched out of the blood-soaked bedding but he could not see his enemies. To escape the biting agony, his mind banged on the doors of wakefulness.

“Amar, I’m here.”

He recognized the voice and its songbird sound drove back all the misery. The images of ruin were gone, and into the peaceful void appeared Onja. Her beauty brought forgetfulness. She shimmered inside an aura of light blue. A long loose black dress obscured her body, but her charming face was radiant and her eyes glowed with the forces of the natural world.

“Let me help you.” He heard her words but her lips did not move.

She had come to save him from his nightmare. She was perfect mercy. “Are you here?” he asked, speaking aloud in the dream.

“I am in Jingten, but my mind has come to you. This is no normal dream and my words are real.”

Onja then asked him why he had come back to the place of his worst sorrows. Speaking inside the dream, he explained what had happened since last she saw him. As part of a larger Kez plan to intimidate many tribes, he had logically chosen to hurt the Patharki as an example.

“I have looked upon what you did to those people last night. You were cruel.”

Somehow Amar knew that she was only making an observation and not judging him.

“I can help you truly have your revenge upon Ginjor Rib. Do you trust me, Amar?”

“Of course,” he said.

“You will have to let me use my magic through you when the time comes.”

“As you wish, Onja.”

She smiled and her happiness helped Amar forget the recent trials of his nightmare. Although his loyalty and love for her were clear enough, Onja knew that giving him revenge upon Ginjor Rib would forever cement his utter devotion to her. Beholding the quickening of her creation excited her. Already Amar had done much with his opportunity, and, although rys had no magic to see the future, Onja knew that he would become a warlord whose name marched across the ages.

Onja commanded him to go to the citadel of Ginjor Rib as he had planned. She would contact him then and they would make their plan.

Quickly Amar told her that it was good to see her.

“It was good to see you too, Amar.”

Her image withdrew from his mind and he opened his eyes. He had been asleep all day and a dull dusk was creeping toward night. The sky was heavy with clouds and a light snow had begun.

When he sat up, he realized that his warriors had formed a ring around him. They crouched a short distance away and gaped at him with awe.

“What is it?” he asked.

Cybar said, “She has come to you, hasn’t she?”

“How did you know?” Amar asked.

Cybar answered that they had all seen a sphere of blue light move across the land and stop over his body.

Amar explained that he had spoken with Onja inside his dream. Then he ordered everyone to assemble for departure. He did not care if it was night. They needed the falling snow to cover their tracks, and he was eager to reach Ginjor Rib’s citadel.


Amar and his band of Kez took a circuitous route through the wilds into the Patharki Domain. They approached the citadel on a southern road, appearing to come from the opposite direction of where the massacre had occurred. The cold weather deepened as winter came hard and early. The prospect of indoor warmth was welcomed by the warriors, except Amar. He had never been to Dajendarli, the capital of the Patharki Tribe, nor had he ever met Ginjor Rib, but he had plenty of other memories to make him hate the place and the man. When he looked upon the citadel of Ginjor Rib, he thought of Temdi, his loyal Infoh whose head had been taken in place of his. Had Temdi’s head been tossed upon the floor of this citadel? Amar shuddered at the thought of crossing the same floor to speak with the ruler of the Patharki.

He struggled to master his boiling emotions. While still outside Dajendarli, he sent three representatives into the town to arrange an audience with the Patharki King.

The citadel of Ginjor Rib was an impressive structure. It rose above the town like a ram among lambs. The citadel was built into the outer facade of rock that formed the north rim of a canyon carved by the Tutter-Shen River. Beyond the citadel spread a broad flood plain, and the town squeezed between the river and the citadel in a jumble of wood and stone buildings. The citadel was the tallest building Amar had ever seen. Its stone block walls rose against the natural rock in a half cylinder topped by parapets and long narrow banners that slithered in the wind. A solid stone rampart surrounded the base of the citadel, and Amar estimated that it would take many men and much determination to breach the defenses of Ginjor Rib.

While waiting for the return of his representatives, Amar and his comrades camped across the newly frozen river. They did not conceal themselves, and Amar expected to be invited inside. Lax Ar Fu had by now sent all tribal leaders letters written by Urlen reminding them of the crucial services that the Brothers of Vu offered for inter-tribal relations. Of course, implied by the reminder was the threat that the Kez did not want to be ignored or circumvented in their traditional business. As secure as Ginjor Rib was, it would be unwise of him to refuse or attack the emissary of the Kez Overlord. He may have need of mercenaries some day and the Kez were capable of causing him and his tribe many minor miseries indefinitely.

Amar strolled along the riverbank. His warriors hung back, sensing his turmoil. Dead grass and reeds stuck out of the ice and snow at the river’s edge like slender tombstones of seasons past. Amar dusted the snow off a squat boulder and sat down. Staring at the ice, he thought of Onja. Amar tried to draw strength from his confidence in her, but his sadness and hatred were sabotaging his resolve.

When the biting cold let go of his body, he knew that she was coming to him. The air suddenly felt balmy against his exposed face and he closed his eyes.

“Amar, I find you upset,” Onja commented.

He confessed that he did not think he could go before the destroyer of his tribe and family and calmly state his business. “My emotions are untamed,” he whispered.

Onja counseled, “Savor these final hours as you stalk your victim. The senshal watches the deer for hours or days before striking for the kill. Sometimes the beast even lets chances to kill pass because it enjoys knowing that it can take its prey at any time. I have seen into the mind of the senshal and felt its perilous pleasures. Now go Amar and look upon Ginjor Rib and be joyful in the knowledge that his heart is beating its final beats. You will wipe his blood from your sword this night.”

Her speech roused him from his useless misery and he asked her how this would be done. Onja told him that she had been learning new ways to use her magic. In addition to her ability to send her thoughts to him, she would cloak him with her magic so that he could move about the citadel unseen. Once Amar entered the citadel, he should listen for her to give him instructions in his mind.

“Have faith in me, Amar. We will not fail.”

“You are kind to me, Onja,” Amar said, but he heard no reply and the cold crashed against his flesh. She was gone.

His warriors were returning from Dajendarli. The three men on horses were spread out on the frozen river. Although it was a solid freeze, there was no reason to be reckless and encourage the ice to break by riding close together.

Amar walked back to his camp. When his returning warriors reported that Ginjor Rib invited Amar and all his company to a banquet that evening as respected guests, Amar’s eyes narrowed with suspicion.

“A trap,” Kym suggested readily.
Lifting his eyes toward the citadel, Amar said, “Would we not all enjoy solid walls and a warm fire?”

“Easily enough gotten at one of Dajendarli’s inns,” Kym replied.

“We cannot turn down the hospitality of the Patharki King,” Amar said and then he turned to address all the warriors. “Do not worry about a trap from Ginjor Rib. My fair benefactress Onja has just spoken to me and luck will not serve the Patharki tonight.”

Sly superior smiles broke out among the Kez. They were amazed to be a part of something new. There had never been a Kez like Amar before and they were excited to follow a man allied with a magic mountain rys.

The Kez crossed the river and entered the town. Foot traffic stepped aside from the ominous column of hardened warriors dressed mostly in black. Having no specific tribal origin, the Kez always looked foreign with their mix of traits from all regional stocks. The townspeople warily sized up the Kez, and all onlookers dwelled upon the young warrior at the fore of the group. His youth seemed inappropriate to lead such a group of veteran mercenaries. 

Amar’s heart thudded hard in his chest, driven by a confluence of emotions, but he armed himself with Onja’s advice and relished entering his hunting grounds. His grief and jibbering weakness were buried with Gendahl. A narrow bridge across a moat conveyed them inside the outer wall of the citadel. They were vulnerable as they rode single file into the fortress, and Amar tensed for a possible attack. 

Patharki warriors glowered down from the ramparts, and a squad of warriors awaited the Kez at the entrance. An extraordinarily tall man with thick long black hair stood before the warriors. A chestplate of glistening bronze inlaid with a jade image of the war God Zatooluh covered his broad chest, and he wore a heavily stitched suit of fine leather dyed a deep wine color. A sword with an impressively large ruby on its pommel stuck out from a scabbard also adorned with rubies. The tall Patharki warrior had high cheek bones and widely set eyes, and a bad scar at the corner of his mouth.

“I am Ulan, war chief of the Patharki and first man to Ginjor Rib, our great King,” he introduced himself. “Who here is Amar?”

Amar dismounted and moved with casual confidence as if he had arrived at the homestead of a trusted friend. The height of Ulan was intimidating and Amar judged that the long arms of the warrior would be a formidable advantage if they had to fight.

“I am Amar, emissary of Lax Ar Fu, Lord of the Kez,” Amar said and then bowed politely. This seemed to amuse Ulan who showed a toothy grin.

Ulan scanned the group of grizzled Kez on their horses and asked, “Is it the way of the Kez to put a boy in charge of men?”

Amar did not take the bait and answered cheerfully, “The Kez honor and reward ability.”

Ulan knit his brow, surprised that Amar’s temper could not be easily provoked. “You and your warriors will be given food and shelter. Amar, our King has words for you to return to Lax Ar Fu.” Ulan spun and the warriors behind him parted. The rest of the Kez dismounted and gave over their mounts to boys who were hustling out from the stables built into the foundations of the outer rampart wall.

The squad of warriors in Ulan’s company flanked Amar as he entered the citadel. They traveled a hall that took three sharp turns before opening onto a broad receiving hall that was less obviously defended. Only widely spaced narrow windows near the top of the ceiling let in cloudy daylight. Torches and braziers cast bleary orange light that bounced among the pillars like blind birds.

Ulan led his Kez guests into an adjoining hall. Serving women garbed in black from head to toe with only eye slits in the fabric were setting long tables with pitchers of wine and plates of bread and cheese. A fire roared in a great fireplace at the end of the banquet hall.

“Wait here and refresh yourselves,” Ulan said.

Amar thanked him and offered the Patharki praise for their hospitality.

“We are a gracious people,” Ulan said and Amar could barely keep himself from spitting at him in disgust.

The Patharki left the Kez alone. The warriors sauntered down to the fire to warm up or sat on the benches to inspect the food and drink that had been set out for them. No one immediately ate or drank. Amar shared in their suspicion that the food might be poisoned. Although he rarely took strong drink he grabbed a goblet and poured a full measure of the heavy red wine. He sipped it and then drank more. He believed that Onja would help him if he was stricken by a poison.

He felt warmth in his stomach and a creeping pleasure move up to his head, but it felt like only alcohol. When Amar seemed unhurt by the wine, the other warriors began to pour, but Amar cautioned them not to drink too much.

“We’ll likely have need of our sword arms and our wits,” he said.

While the others ate, Amar sat at the head of the banquet table with his back to the fire. The heat from the fireplace pressed through his cloak and armor. He folded his hands on the table and took no food. Although he had mastered his emotions, the thought of eating the food of Ginjor Rib revolted him.

His warriors often glanced at the double doors that led to the main hall and seemed to be the only way in or out. They spoke quietly about how good it was to warm up inside. Their guarded conversations receded from Amar’s hearing and he welcomed the creeping presence of Onja as she slipped into his mind.

“You are performing bravely,” she praised for only him to hear. “Your enemy plots to kill you and your men after a feast tonight. Then he will have decoys ride out on your horses so he can say to Lax Ar Fu that you left and he did not hurt you.”

Amar tried to think his words instead of speaking aloud and discovered that he could communicate with her mentally even when awake. He asked Onja what he should do. “When the King summons you to an audience, strike when you see that my magic is with you.” she said.

“What of my men?” he asked.

After a pause, Onja simply replied that they should be sent away. She then left Amar’s mind. He placed a hand on his chest. The warding crystal was hot in its pouch against his skin. Beside him Kym reached for a pitcher of wine but Amar grabbed his wrist to stop him.

Quietly he said, “When I am summoned to my audience with Ginjor Rib, take all the men and go. Just walk out of here to the stables, get your horses and leave. Fight if you have to, but go quickly before they realize what is happening.”

The other Kez at the table dropped their conversations and listened. Amar continued in a low voice and informed them that the Patharki planned to murder them that night.

“She has told you this,” Kym said.

“She has told me,” Amar confirmed.

“Then you must leave with us,” Kym declared and several other warriors agreed.

“I came to have my audience with Ginjor Rib. I am the emissary of our Lord Lax Ar Fu, and I will faithfully perform my duty,” Amar said. “This I can do alone. Go back across the river and await me.”

His warriors frowned, unhappy with the strange orders. Clearly they would have further protested his mad plan, but the double doors swung open and Ulan filled the doorway with a squad of warriors at his heels.

“You are summoned by our King, Amar,” Ulan announced.

Amar stood from the table and cast one more meaningful look at Kym to confirm that his orders would be followed.

As Amar passed through the doorway, Ulan gestured to the table and urged the Kez to relax and enjoy. “A feast is being laid out for you tonight. Let it not be said that the Patharki do not know how to reward the servants of Vu,” he said.

Amar brushed by the Patharki soldiers standing in the hall. Their black cloaks and smooth round helms roused hard memories from the day his tribe died. But they were mice among big game, and Amar reminded himself to focus on his prize.

He fell into step beside Ulan and said, “Ginjor Rib honors me with so quick a reception.”

“Yes, it is an honor. Our King holds court less and less,” Ulan said.

Surrounded by a dozen Patharki men, Amar went with Ulan into the main hall of the citadel. The great pillar-lined hall terminated at the very heart of the citadel where the building met the wall of the canyon. When Amar reached the Patharki King, the raw natural rock loomed behind the throne. Oil lamps were artfully arranged in the crannies of the rock wall. They lighted a broad chair carved from the natural stone and polished to a glassy shine. Rich amber and green jade adorned the throne that was far finer than the wooden seat from where the lords of the Lin Tohs had once presided.

The grandeur of the throne was not embodied in Ginjor Rib. He was a thin old man, bent forward in his seat as if the fur-lined robe that draped his shoulders was a burdensome yoke. His face was long and thin and his narrow beard was white. Sunken eyes regarded Amar with a crotchety gaze.

Amar had imagined the vicious architect of his tribe’s genocide as fit and dangerous. But the evident frailty of the Patharki king prompted no thoughts of mercy in Amar, who enjoyed that Ginjor Rib suffered ill health.

Ginjor Rib squinted his rheumy eyes. “Who is this boy that Lax Ar Fu sends to treat with me?” the King asked.

Amar graciously moved down to one knee and dipped his head. “A young man, Patharki King,” he corrected. The spirit of Gendahl choked, but the prowling mind of Amar was pleased by his artful reply.

“I bring you Amar of the Kez, my King,” Ulan said.

Ginjor Rib settled back into his throne and appeared grateful for the support of the broad chair. “Yes, the letter spoke of you, Amar. Your Lax Ar Fu suddenly seems to think himself a man of letters. Tell me what scribe have you robbed from some proper family and forced to put your demands onto writing skin?”

The tone of Ginjor Rib made it plain that he had disliked the formal requests of Lax Ar Fu. “Patharki King,” Amar said, staying on one knee. “No man serves Vu by force. All of my Kez brothers are happy in their place, even the one gifted with the ink and stylus is grateful for his chance to perform his art.”

“Bah!” Ginjor Rib said with a couple drops of spittle flying from his loose lips. He put out his hand and an attendant gave him a ragged scroll that he promptly threw at Amar. It bounced off Amar’s shoulder, and he raised his smoldering eyes to meet those of Ginjor Rib.

The Patharki King continued, “How dare the Kez demand a retainer?! What need have we of outlaws who fancy themselves negotiators?! The Patharki need no help in any of their affairs.”

“Patharki King, I ask that you reconsider. The Kez have much to offer. And with the payment of your annual retainer we would serve at your convenience. We can provide mercenaries. We can arrange secure meetings with other leaders you may wish to meet. And we are the watchers of the frontiers. We know first when danger prowls close to civilization for we live in the wilds as comfortably as owls and hawks, watching night and day. We can bring warnings of marauders at your frontiers and even offer defense,” Amar said.

Suspicion deepened the lines on Ginjor Rib’s face. “Yes, marauders,” he hissed. “We have had word of marauders on our northeastern border.”

“In the land that was recently the Domain of the Lin Tohs?” Amar asked.

The apt question startled the Patharki leader. Quietly he asked Amar what his tribe was before joining the Kez.

“I am of no tribe, Patharki King,” Amar replied, but his eyes twinkled with the lie.

“I hear the accent of the Lin Tohs upon your tongue,” Ginjor Rib said and the guards and Ulan perked up.

Amar, still on one knee with Ulan hovering to his left, remained calm. “My birth is my shame, Patharki King. I am bastard born. My mother was of the Lin Tohs, but she ran into the wilds and served the Kez instead of exposing me and killing herself. That is why you hear the Lin Tohs in my speech but I am not of that tribe,” he said.

It seemed a reasonable explanation, and Amar heard Ulan take a breath that seemed to indicate relief. But Ginjor Rib could see the eyes of the young man before him and he was not so sure. “Ulan, what viper have you brought before me?” he demanded.

Amar felt the warding crystal around his neck become hot. Knowing that the power of Onja was with him, he sprang into action. He pulled a small dagger from his boot and stabbed Ulan in the back of a knee and jumped to his feet.

The towering war chief bellowed but still lashed out with a hard sweep of his arm. Amar dodged to the right. The guards with Ulan lowered their spears, but then they halted in confusion. Looking around as if bugs buzzed in their ears, they tried to locate Amar, but no one seemed able to see him. Then the lamps and lanterns went out and darkness grabbed the room with thick hands.

Despite the sudden dazzle and then dark, Ginjor Rib spotted the shadow coming at him. When the hard fierce grip of a strong young man took his throat, he saw clearly the face of Amar. An eerie blue light outlined his body in an enchanted halo, and Ginjor Rib’s gasp turned into a gurgle as Amar squeezed his throat and flung him to the floor.

“The King!” Ulan shouted when he heard his leader’s muffled cry. Ulan shifted his weight onto his good leg and yanked out his sword. Magical fog still stymied the other guards, who clutched their spears and poked tentatively at the dark.

Amar’s senses flared with enhanced sensitivity. The darkness did not impede his vision and he saw everyone in the room as detailed shapes. And he heard with greater clarity. Beyond the shouts of shock and fear, he could hear the scrape of shifting feet on the stone floor and the desperate rattling breath of the Patharki King.

With the smoke of the extinguished lamps stabbing his nostrils, Amar jumped down from the throne. Ulan confronted him with a blind sweep of his sword. The will of the mighty war chief seemed to be giving him some resistance to whatever Onja was doing to the other guards.

Amar blocked the sword and pushed the blade aside. He danced around Ulan and sliced the man’s other leg. He cried out and whirled. The sword had cut deeper than the dagger, and Ulan took one hand from his sword and clamped it over the bleeding gash in his leg. Stooped and hurting, he held his weapon defensively.

“What sorcery is upon us?” he snarled.

Amar moved around him and back to Ginjor Rib. He could smell the fear sweat of the aged king and it beckoned him. Giving action to his agony, Amar plunged his sword into the vitals of Ginjor Rib. He did it three more times. The Patharki King screamed and said no and begged for help.

Amar stepped back. He heard the blood dripping onto the floor from his blade and the splat of it spurting from the old man’s butchered abdomen. The fresh meaty smell was exhilarating. Amar had delivered a slow death to him. There could be no recovering from the damage done to his vitals, but death would not be immediate.

Amar had his vengeance. It set nothing right and redeemed him not from wickedness, but Amar was satisfied that the demands of sweet justice had been executed.

He ran down the length of the great hall. The fires in braziers and lamps snuffed out in his presence and darkness guided him from the heart of the citadel. From all directions he heard shouts.

Men-at-arms confronted him in the sharply turning corridor that connected the main hall to the entrance. Potent with power, he cut them all down. His mind seemed to always know where the others’ weapons were striking so he could block them. And his eyes saw immediately where to cut and kill or maim. 

At the last turn in the corridor, five men rushed him. Amar jumped and grabbed a metal sconce in the wall and swung his feet at his adversaries. He struck the middle man in the chest and knocked him down. Then he let go of the sconce and landed within the small group. He spun hard with his sword blade out and cut down two of them. Amar ran on and slipped through the heavy gates that had been left partway open.

Bodies littered the yard between the citadel and the outer rampart wall. The Kez warriors had just fought their way out and Patharki warriors were rushing around in disarray. They had been thrown off their purpose by the abrupt escape of the Kez who they had expected to slaughter later. Some riders had just started galloping out the gates to chase the Kez through the town.

The sun was going down. Cold blue and purple clouds streaked across red sky, and its bloody glow illuminated the high curved wall of the citadel. Amar paused to admire the beauty of the sunset on the building. With Ginjor Rib suffering at the foot of his throne, the world had been remade with twice its original beauty, and Amar beheld every detail with rapturous joy.

“They will not see you,” Onja whispered in his mind.

Darting between the erratic Patharki and delighting in his enchanted stealth, Amar ran to the stable. Inside the stable there was the faint warmth of animals and the mingled odors of leather, hay, and manure. Amar found his horse munching on hay.

He saddled his horse and rode out of the stable. He actually joined a group of mounted Patharki and exited the main gate. Once they entered the town, Amar broke off onto a side lane. The narrow twisting streets of Dajendarli worked against him and he twice had to backtrack out of blind alleys before finding the edge of town and the river.

His Kez warriors were already across the frozen river. Amar saw their scattered figures gathering on the opposite river bank. Their Patharki pursuers were just leaving the town by the main road and spurring their mounts onto the ice. Amar yelled and snapped the reins. Parallel with the Patharki he raced across the river.

When he reached the middle of the river, Onja’s powers turned to another task. The giant groaning rip of snapping ice smacked the river and Amar’s horse faltered a few steps on the buckling ice. Shouts of dismay erupted from the Patharki. Some of the horses and men were already breaking through and being sucked into the awful rushing water below.

Amar did not look back. The cracking and screaming increased as he reached the shore and his loyal Kez warriors gathered around him. Their steaming breath caught the last of the daylight as the temperature dropped into the night. The abnormal breaking of the river ice consumed some Patharki and drove the others back to the town.

“Ginjor Rib has been punished for refusing to pay the Kez!” Amar announced and a cheer went up. The Brothers of Vu knew that their notoriety was once again on the rise with Amar to terrorize the masters of civilization.

The band of Kez warriors returned to the wilds and left the stunned town of Dajendarli behind. No more pursuers came forth from the citadel, and, as the life of Ginjor Rib ebbed, the waters of the Tutter-Shen gradually froze over again.

Amar set a leisurely pace on his way to the Domain of the Nurati Tribe. He wanted to make sure that news of his supernatural visit to the Patharki had time to travel ahead of him. As he predicted, the letter from Lax Ar Fu that demanded a retainer for the Kez was heeded by the Nurati King. Coupled with the terrifying news of the fate of Ginjor Rib, the letter was doubly impressive when the king recognized the script of his former scribe that had been left to die in the Sky Temple of Preem.

The Nurati offered the Kez no hospitality. When Amar’s agents appeared at the city gates of Telop, they were met by servants of the king who bore chests of gold, silver, and iron. Excuses were made that fever afflicted the royal household and that it would be best not to have guests. Amar did not mind the lie and he departed with the Nurati’s tribute. He dispatched men to hurry it back to Lax Ar Fu.

The next two tribal leaders that he called upon paid the Kez their retainers without complaint. Amar enjoyed the powerful effect he had on people. The nervous respect in their eyes fed a hunger in his soul that he had not fully realized was there until he tasted of success.

Onja, however, had been absent from his mind since the breaking of the ice. Before sleeping every night, Amar held the warding crystal in his bare hand and silently praised her and thanked her for intervening on his behalf with her power. He missed her presence, but he was confident that she would return to him. He just did not know when.

Because he could not assume her power was with him when he arrived at the royal city of the Temulanka Tribe, he did not act when the tribe barred its gate and told him and his warriors to be gone. He only ominously stated that he and Lax Ar Fu would not forget that the Temulanka had spurned their chance to retain the good will of the servants of Vu.

Their time will come, Amar told himself and decided to return to Eferzen Springs. The winter solstice had come and gone during his travels, and he required some rest and shelter from the cold before continuing south to the Domain of the Sabar’Uto Tribe.

Rys Rising, web novel chapter , , , ,

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