Sanctuary – Snippet 05
The hatchlings might be too old. That much was already obvious from the volume of sound being emitted from the nest somewhere above and still not in sight.
“At least two, maybe three,” Nabliz said softly.
All four of them were huddled together under an overhanding rock on the steep slope. The vegetation was getting very sparse now and there weren’t many places to find concealment.
“Too old,” grunted Herere. She had the odd quality of being pessimistic as well as aggressive. The combination often irritated Sebetwe — as it did now.
He started to say something but Aqavo spoke first. “Maybe not, Herere,” she said. “Sebetwe is very –”
“Powerful,” Herere interrupted, impatiently and a bit sourly. “Yes, I know. This is still not magic.”
The word Aqavo had actually been about to use was bradda, Sebetwe thought. The term was subtle and while it had much in common with gudru — “powerful” — it suggested more in the way of influence and persuasion, even charisma. The fact that Herere did not understand the distinction was much of the reason she herself had never risen very far in her ranking as a disciple.
For Herere, all conflict came down to strength against strength. That had served her well enough as a child at establishing her mastery over creatures like tritti and even paqui.
But today they faced great gantrak of the mountains. No Liskash disciple, no matter how great their gudh, had any chance of simply dominating such monsters. You might as well try quenching a bonfire by force of will.
There was no point trying to explain any of this to Herere, though. No mentor of the Krek, not even Meshwe, had ever managed to do that. So Sebetwe simply shifted his shoulders in a slight shrug and said: “Maybe I can, maybe I can’t. We’ll find out soon enough.”
Another chorus of screeches came down from above.
“They’re hungry,” said Nabliz. “We’d better move quickly.”
He was right. The mother would be away, hunting for her brood. The father… could be anywhere, but there was no point in worrying about that. Male gantrak were every bit as protective of their brood as females, but they had little of the same territoriality. The brood’s father might be a mountain range away.
Or could be asleep in the nest itself. With males, behavior was hard to predict.
“Let’s get going,” Sebetwe commanded. “I’ll continue directly up the slope with Nabliz. Herere, you take that little draw to the left. I think that’ll bring you above the nest.” A little diplomacy here. “You’re the strongest, so you’ll have the best chance of handling the mother if she returns.”
“And me?” asked Aqavo.
Had he been fully honest, Sebetwe would have replied: “You stay here, because you’re only a novice, not yet a full tekkutu, and won’t be any use to me in the capture. And you won’t be any more use if we have to fight.”
But he liked Aqavo as much as he disliked Herere, so he coated the answer. “Stay here and make ready the harnesses. We won’t have any time to spare.”
“How many?” she asked, sounding a bit relieved.
“Only two. If I can capture any at all, it won’t be more than that.”
Aqavo started rummaging in the sacks they’d all unloaded when they reached the overhang. Herere was already out, heading for the draw.
“Ghammid be with you,” said Nabliz after her.
Aqavo whistled softly. “Don’t let Meshwe hear you say that or you’ll get a lecture.”
Sebetwe grunted his amusement. It was true enough. He could hear it already. The so-called “God of Good Fortune” is simply another manifestation of the Godhead as we can perceive it. No more a real deity than the sun or the moon — and you have as much chance of improving your luck by invoking her as you do of changing the dawn or the tides by invoking Huwute or Ishtala.
Sebetwe didn’t doubt Meshwe’s teaching. Not for a moment. Still…
“Ghammid be with us,” he murmured, and headed up the slope, shaking his catchpole slightly to make sure the noose was not tangled.
“What is that thing?” hissed Chefer Kolkin. The warrior’s grip on his spear was tight enough for his knuckles to stand out in sharp relief — quite unlike the veteran’s usual relaxed manner when handling his weapons.
Part of his tension was due to the unearthly shrieks coming from somewhere above them. Most of it, though, was simply due to the uncertainty of the moment. Should they fight? Flee? Hide? And looming behind all of those questions was a still greater one — who was to decide? Which of them was to give the order, whatever that order might be?
By strict seniority, Chefer Kolkin himself should perhaps be in charge. But as doughty a warrior as he was, Chefer Kolkin had never displayed much in the way of leadership in the past.
Neither had the other surviving dancer, Gadi Elkin. Besides, although she was older than Achia Pazik, she did not match her in skill — and rank among the dancers was based mostly on ability, not age.
Of the other four soldiers, the half-brothers Tsede Zeg and Elor Zeg generally kept to themselves, to the point of being almost rude. Zuel Babic was too young — not more than two years past Lavi Tur’s age — and Puah Neff was cut from the same hide as Chefer Kolkin. Brave and fierce in battle, capable at other tasks, but not suited to lead more than a handful of warriors.
So… it would have to be Achia Pazik herself who took the position of leader. Until now, she’d been able to avoid that task, because they’d simply been fleeing. The only decision to be made was this way! or that way! and any one of them could do that much.
There was no need to make a formal proceeding out of the matter, though, even if they had the time to do so.
“I think it’s more than one thing, whatever it is,” she said. She pointed to a narrow ledge that moved up the side of the mountain to their right. “I think we can follow that around, and stay away from… whatever they are.”
Chefer Kolkin nodded. “I will take the lead.” He moved off, crouched over so as not to show his profile above the terrain. Not until he had taken eight or nine steps did Achia Pazik realize that the warrior had displayed as much adroit skill in tacitly accepting her leadership as he had in moving up the mountain. Apparently, there were subtleties beneath than stolid exterior.
She stayed in place, waiting for the other warriors to reach her. As they did, she passed along the same instructions: Up the mountain using the ledge. Follow Chefer Kolkin. No one disputed her authority, either because they accepted it on its own terms or because they supposed Chefer Kolkin had made the decision. Again, there was no point in forcing a formal agreement, even if they had the leisure time. Hopefully, as time passed, the warriors would come to accept the situation without quarrel.
She expected no dispute from the other dancer — and, indeed, Gadi Elkin did as she was told without hesitating. So did the four females and their kits.
Lavi Tur brought up the rear. And he, of course, raised the issue. Being quick-witted at his age was a very mixed blessing.
“Who put you in charge?” he demanded, in a tone which was both challenging and amused.