Sanctuary – Snippet 15
Nurat had watched the quick and efficient slaughter of the badly-wounded Liskash soldier carried out by the females in the yurt. She’d also observed the encounter between the females and the male who’d briefly entered the yurt afterward. He’d seemed to be an official of some kind.
Her view of the incidents had been limited, just what she could see through the small opening — no more than a slit — she’d created in the pile of hides and thrushes the females had hastily piled on top of her and her kits. She’d understood none of their speech, either. She thought she recognized two of the words they’d used, although she wasn’t even sure of that.
But, by now, one thing was clear to her. For whatever reason, the female Liskash were protecting Nurat and her kits. They’d not only provided her with healing treatments but they’d gone to considerable length — and considerable personal risk, she suspected — to keep the Mrem hidden.
Hidden from who? She didn’t know, precisely. But whatever Liskash officials they were hiding them from, ultimately they were hiding them from Zilikazi himself.
How could they be doing that? Nurat had felt herself the Liskash noble’s incredible might. She wouldn’t have thought a small group of female Liskash could counter that mental power.
But, then, she understood very little of the way that mind control worked. Perhaps it could be evaded, if not directly countered.
If you knew how to do it, which she didn’t.
And why hadn’t Zilikazi detected her, for that matter? He’d seemed to have no trouble finding the minds of the dancers and the warriors in the battle and crushing them like so many eggs.
Everything was a mystery, everywhere she looked.
She would have to learn the Liskash language, as fast as she could.
This Liskash language, she reminded herself. Unlike the Mrem, the Liskash had a vast array of tongues and speech.
Nurat Merav had always been adept at learning different Mrem dialects. Hopefully, that skill would apply here as well.
Something was stirring up the females. Zilikazi could sense their unease — and what seemed to be unrest, perhaps even a small amount of resistance. But his mental powers did not enable him to understand the actual thoughts of others, only their emotions — and those, only blurrily.
The ability of a Liskash noble to force others to do his (and very occasionally her) bidding rested, ultimately, on the noble being able to grasp the emotions of those he would subordinate. But the grasp was that of a hand — and a gloved hand at that — upon a crudely-felt object, not that of delicate fingers probing the subtle texture of a surface. A noble could crush an egg, so to speak, but he could not really feel it or even give it a slight crack.
Besides, Zilikazi was pre-occupied with the campaign against the Kororo, which was proving to be considerably harder than he’d anticipated. So he gave little thought to whatever might be happening with the females. Why bother? There would be plenty of time after the campaign to deal with any problems that might exist. As long as he controlled his army, what difference did it make what got females agitated? Like eggs, they too could be crushed.
Another rock slide came crashing down the slope of the mountainside. Once again, Zilikazi’s mind tried to find and destroy the will of those who opposed him, but he could not find them. It was as if his gloved hand groped at slippery fish wriggling down a fast-moving stream. He could sense them but not their precise locations.
This, he now realized, was what the Krek meant by their concept of “tekku.” He had thought it to be nothing much more than twaddle, but he’d been mistaken. Somehow the Kororo were using an attunement to certain animals — predators, he thought, with clear and simple purposes — to provide them with a shield against him.
Tekku was a real mental ability, then, albeit subtle and certainly nothing compared to his own in terms of sheer force. Eventually he would pin them down and force them to submit.
“They’ve reached Nesudi Pass,” reported the runner from the Krek warriors trying to resist Zilikazi’s advancing army. “We can probably fend them off for two more days, but no longer.”
Despite the distance he’d traveled as fast as he could, Khuze was not breathing hard. He’d had to rest for the night before reaching the Krek, and had taken the time in the morning to warm up before resuming his run. That last stretch had taken only a short time, as runners measured such things.
Watching Khuze as he spoke, Sebetwe found himself — as he did quite often of late — envying the ability of the Mrem to handle cold temperatures as well as they did. There were major disadvantages to being a mammal, to be sure. The amount of food the creatures needed to consume was astounding! How did they get anything done besides eating? But he still envied them, every time he or the Krek had to wrestle with the drawbacks of living in the mountains.
Khuze’s statement had been greeted with silence. A bit belatedly, because he’d gotten distracted by his musings, Sebetwe realized the Krek guiding council was waiting for him to respond.
Why? He was the most skilled of the younger tekkutu — more skilled than any of the older ones except Meshwe, for that matter — but he was not a war leader. Like any adult Kororo he was proficient in the use of weapons and knew the basic principles of tactics. That was as far as it went, however. There were three or four people squatting in the command yurt who would have a far better notion than he did of how to handle the current situation.
Once Zilikazi’s army forced its way through Nesudi Pass, there would be no obstacle to their further progress until they reached the next range of mountains, where the Krek eyrie was located. They’d be passing across a broad and fairly flat plateau which provided little opportunity for the sort of long-distance ambush that had been the Krek’s most successful tactic thus far.