Sanctuary – Snippet 11
The third day of the march began late in the morning. Zilikazi would have preferred to begin sooner, as he had done the first two days, but practical reality dictated otherwise. They had entered the foothills by the middle of the afternoon the day before, and the temperature had dropped noticeably. If he ordered his soldiers to begin marching too soon, before they’d been able to soak up some heat from the rising sun, they would be sluggish. The huge train of camp followers who brought up the rear would be even worse, and not even a noble of Zilikazi’s power could override the ties between his army and their camp followers. Mates, children, the elderly — no matter how fiercely Zilikazi lashed his soldiers’ minds, they would resist simply leaving their folk behind. Not openly, of course; but resistance could take the more subtle form of lethargic incompetence. The soldiers would be taking two steps sidewise and one step back for every four steps forward.
Besides, he didn’t want his soldiers unready in case combat erupted. Zilikazi wasn’t expecting to encounter any armed resistance yet, but it was hard to predict the behavior of religious fanatics. If the leaders of the Kororo Krek had any sense of military tactics, they’d wait until Zilikazi’s much larger and more powerful force was well into the mountains. The terrain would then favor the defenders. Even such a crude and simple tactic as rolling large stones down the slopes would cause casualties.
But who could be sure what the Kororo would do? From what little Zilikazi had been able to glean from the babble of the one he’d had tortured, the Krek’s beliefs bordered on outright insanity.
Like all nobles, Zilikazi had little interest in the elaborate theology of the Old Faith. Whatever power the old gods might have possessed had mostly been superseded by the power of the newly-risen nobility. That those decrepit ancient deities still lurked about somewhere, Zilikazi didn’t doubt, but they mattered very little any more.
That said, he didn’t have any reason to question their nature. First, they were beings, with personal identities — names, genders, personalities. Zilikazi was dubious of some of the specific claims made by the priestesses. The sun deity Huwute, for instance, was almost certainly not female. Only a male god could shine so brightly.
But the errors and biases of the priestesses of the Old Faith were pallid compared to the ravings of the Kororo.
No deities at all, just abstractions given names? Mere facets of a greater and mysterious so-called “godhead”?
The Kororo didn’t even have proper priestesses and shamans — or even priests. Their religious leaders were called “tekkutu.” So far as Zilikazi had been able to determine, the term meant “adepts of tekku.” Apparently, this so-called “tekku” referred to some sort of mental power over animals.
That such a power might exist was plausible enough. As children, members of the nobility often played with manipulating the minds of animals. But the intrinsic limits of that activity soon made it pall. Most animals simply didn’t have enough brains to make controlling them useful. If you tried to force one to open a gate by lifting the latch with a foreleg — assuming the beast was big enough to manage the task at all — it would fumble it, at best. More often than not, the beast’s mind would simply shut down under the pressure.
Unless they were predators, especially large ones. Those would resist fiercely and usually successfully. Some would even attack the noble who tried to force his will upon them.
And this fragile mental activity was the source of a Kororo tekkutu’s power?
The Kororo fortifications might be a bit of a problem. They were reputed to be quite strong, in a primitive sort of way. The terrain would certainly be a nuisance. But the end result was not in doubt. Zilikazi estimated it would take him no more than a month to crush the mystics.
The slaughter of the Mrem too badly injured to move on their own or with minor assistance took place at noon. By then, the able-bodied Mrem had already been sent about their slave chores and duties, so there were few around to put up any resistance, and all of those were also injured.
The task was done quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of fuss, the way Zilikazi’s well-trained soldiers went about such things. There weren’t really that many badly injured Mrem left by then, anyway. Days had passed since the battle where they received their wounds, and the majority of the wounded had either started to recover or had already died.
Njekwa and the other priestesses and shamans made it a point not to be present at the killing. They raised no public objection, of course. To have done so would have brought the noble lord’s wrath down upon them. But the savagery of the deed fit poorly with the precepts of the Old Faith, and none of its practitioners wanted to be in the vicinity when it happened.
The issue wasn’t so much one of mercy. Liskash understood the concept, although it figured less prominently in their moral codes than it did (at some times and in some circumstances) for the Mrem. But the Old Faith did place a great premium on khaazik, the general principle that harm should be kept to the minimum necessary. Killing those who had no chance of survival was acceptable; indeed, in some situations, a positive good. On the other hand, killing creatures, especially sentient ones, for no greater purpose than to avoid minor inconvenience went against khaazik.
Duzhikaa, it was called, which translated roughly as trespass-upon-observance. As misbehavior went, it was not as severe as outright criminality, but it was still frowned upon. Severely so, if the misdeed came to the attention of Morushken, goddess of thrift.
But it was in the very nature of Morushken to appreciate all manner of thrift — such as the thriftiness of a high priestess who sheltered her adherents from avoidable punishment. Njekwa was quite sure the goddess would look away, so long as she and the other priestesses and the shamans stayed out of sight and sound of the killing.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, some of her adherents were unclear on the nature of thrift. Youngsters were particularly prone to that error — and especially the one who came before her with two Mrem kits hidden in her basket. This was not the first time Zuluku had been a problem.
“There is no need to kill them,” Zuluku insisted. “It was their dam who was badly hurt, not they.”
Njekwa looked down at the tiny creatures in the basket. “They are still suckling age, and will be for some time. I think.” She wasn’t sure how long, because she didn’t know that much about the barbarian mammals.
But it didn’t matter. A few days would be too long. Newborns of any advanced species required constant feeding.
“They’re mammals, Zuluku. Without their dam and her milk, they’ll die soon anyway.”
The young female looked away, her expression seeming a bit…
The dam is still alive also — and this young idiot is hiding her!
Njekwa started to say something. She wasn’t sure what, except that it would be harshly condemnatory. But then Zuluku looked back at her with a new expression. A very stubborn one.