Tales of Erogenia
Based on the online comic created by J.E. Draft.
Episode 2: Journey to Jinqua
Chapter 3: The Hawk Tribe
With a flick of his wings Nordag shifted his body into a long slow glide, swooping over the northern approaches to the tribal heartland. He didnt expect to see much. Few dangers ever approached from the north, but King Theredin was not one to take any chances when it came to defending his kingdom. All approaches to the domain of the Hawk Tribe were carefully patrolled, even those from which an enemy had never been known to approach. As usual there was nothing and he was just about to turn back when a slight movement caught his eye.
He swooped lower, his avian eyesight zooming in on his target. He gave a shrill cry of surprise and dropped even lower. Moving along a narrow forest trail was the strangest processions he had ever seen. It consisted of two women, a donkey, and a huge cat. The woman leading the procession was magnificent, standing as tall as most men and she was dressed in shining black armour studded with glittering bronze fastening. Over her back was slung a sword and a quiver of arrows and in her right hand she carried a powerful bow.
Directly behind her was a smaller woman. She was dressed in the robes of a priestess of the Moon, but like the first woman she carried a sword and bow as well. She appeared very young, probably barely in her early teens, but her ripening body and noble bearing gave promise of great beauty.
The huge cat confused him. It appeared to be a leopard, but Nordag had never seen one so large and with such peculiar colouring. Instead of the familiar mottling of black and yellow this one was as pale as the snow. It appeared tame as a kitten, but he had never heard of such an animal being tamed before, and something about the way it moved told him that no one was this beasts mistress.
He was now almost within bowshot, a position he intended to maintain, considering the weapons the two women carried. He swept over their heads, and then suddenly the younger one looked up and something stabbed into his brain with such intensity he almost fluttered to the ground.
Almost immediately the sensation was gone and then it returned, but much more gentle this time. Sorry, a voice said, I did not mean to do that. I am Shalandra, daughter of Queen Cirilia of the Tribe of the Snow Leopard and Shelan of the Wolf Tribe, and I speak for my sister, Zenaria, daughter of Zenar and Cirilia.
This time Nordag did fold his wings, coming to rest in the high branches of a great beech. Never before had he experienced mind-speaking, and the sudden intrusion into his consciousness left him completely disoriented.
Both women stopped and looked up at him. Do you think the bird heard you? the taller woman asked. From this position Nordag could now see that her hair was black, and trailed in a long braid as thick as a mans wrist to the swell of her backside.
Im not sure, the younger woman answered. From this more advantageous position Nordag could see that as he had thought, the girl was quite young, but definitely worth investigating. As for the other, her statuesque figure could not be hidden in spite of the armour she wore.
Even bewildered as he was, Nordag realized that if he could hear the girls thoughts then she could probably hear his. I hear you, he said. I am Nordag, son of Bertold and Elzata, and I welcome you to the Tribe of the Hawk.
For a brief instant he considered changing to his human form, but then realized his clothes were back at the guard post. If he was to appear before these two strange warriors, he wanted to appear properly attired as a warrior of the Hawk Tribe. I will take word of your coming to King Theredin, he said. Then I will return to greet you properly. Nordag spread his wings, and gaining altitude sped toward the compound of the King.
Do you think that went well? Zenaria asked.
Im not sure, Shalandra responded. I know I certainly startled him. Lets hope it doesnt make him fear us.
Zenaria nodded. She and Shalandra had donned their finery upon entering the territory of the Hawk Tribe. It wasnt exactly convenient attire for a long trek, but as ambassador for her tribe she thought it important to be dressed appropriately. It was now almost a month since they had left the domain of the Snow Leopard and about the same amount of time since Shalandra had become a woman. During that short time her sister had greatly refined her ability to commune with animals as she slowly came into her powers. Zenaria expected there was much more to come, but only time and Shalandras natural ability would tell.
Her sudden ability to reach out and touch the mind of another living thing was startling in its potential and Zenaria wondered just how far it would go. So far it seemed that only animals were subject to this power, but Zenaria wondered if it would eventually extend to humans and if so whether anyone would be safe from Shalandras mind. There were some things that Zenaria would just as soon keep secret, even from her sister.
The forest they were walking through was quite different from that of her homeland. The thick stands of evergreens had given way to forests of oaks, beeches, elms, and many other broad-leafed trees. They formed a thick canopy that shaded the forest floor and shut out the sunlight except along tracks like the one they now followed. Someone had cleared a way through the forest, cutting down the large trees in order that a crude roadway could be created. The mark of wagon wheels showed that it was frequently used for transporting heavy goods of some sort, although Zenaria had not been able to determine what that was.
They walked on for another two hours and Zenaria was beginning to regret donning her armour. She was sweating like a pig under the thick padding and would have given a great deal to come upon a stream where she could bathe, but no such chance presented itself, and then suddenly there was the sound of hoofbeats from up ahead. Automatically Zenaria reached for her sword and then remembered that she was supposed to be an ambassador. The horseman was making no effort to disguise his coming and she could only suppose that his intentions were friendly. However, she remained alert just in case and a glance at her sister showed that she too was on her guard.
The horseman slowed a good ten body lengths from them and swung from the saddle. Zenaria was immediately interested, as was Shalandra. He stood about an inch taller than Zenaria and was powerfully built with broad shoulders, and a deep chest that was well displayed as he wore nothing above his leather breeches except a harness to support his sword. His golden blond hair streamed loosely over his shoulders and hung to the middle of his back. He left his horse and stepped three paces toward them before going down on one knee. Greetings, princesses. I am Nordag of the Hawk Tribe and I welcome you to our domain.
I believe weve met in a manner of speaking, Zenaria replied. I am
Zenarias formal introduction was interrupted by a loud braying from Balky, who at that moment decided to make a break back the way he had come. He jerked hard on the rope, yanking it out of a startled Shalandras hand and headed rapidly up the trail. Shalandra turned, overbalanced and landed on her backside in the middle of the trail. An annoyed Zenaria sent a mental command to Jaree who immediately bounded up the trail and neatly cut off the escaping donkey, sending the terrified animal wheeling back the way he had come. Unfortunately, it did not quite work out the way she had hoped. Balky kept on going, dodging around Zenaria and heading straight for a surprised Nordag who made a grab at the donkeys lead as it tore past him. Much to the blond warriors shock the donkey pulled him off his feet and dragged him several feet before coming to a rolling-eyed halt.
It was not the sort of meeting Zenaria would have preferred, but she could not hold back her laughter at the look of chagrin on the faces of Shalandra and Nordag. So much for dignity, she commented as she held out her hand and pulled her sister to her feet.
Shalandras face was red with embarrassment as she got to her feet. Her priestesss robes were torn and dirty and even more shameful, one of her ripening breasts had popped free of its bindings, something that would not have bothered her a month or so ago when they were mere bumps. However, like any fourteen-year-old, Shalandra was very conscious of her body and having her assets so unexpectedly displayed in front of a handsome stranger had her more than normally mortified.
Nordag, however, seemed not to notice, or at least he did not let on that he did. He got to his feet laughing along with Zenaria. So much for a grand entrance, Zenaria smiled.
And so much for a dignified reception, Nordag answered. I hope no one was hurt, he continued looking at Shalandra who by this time had managed to restore her wayward breast to its proper place.
Just my pride, the young priestess answered. One of these days Im going to turn that donkey into a toad.
You can do that? Nordag asked, his blue eyes widening slightly.
Not yet, Shalandra admitted, but it will be one of the first things I try when I can.
Nordag nodded. If you will allow me I will ride ahead and alert King Theredin as to your arrival. If you will permit me I will take your stubborn little friend with me. He looked warily at Jaree who was sitting unconcernedly a dozen feet away washing her face. Who controls the big cat?
No one controls Jaree, Zenaria answered, but we are bonded.
Nordag rode off and Zenaria and Shalandra followed. Now better attuned to the nature of the Hawk Tribe, Zenaria considered what she had seen. A useful ability, Zenaria thought. She wondered if all members of the Hawk Tribe had shape-shifting abilities. If so they would make formidable enemies and powerful allies. She hoped that she could make a good impression although she doubted that their meeting with Nordag would have much of a positive impact. Perhaps it was time to have a donkey roast.
It took the remainder of the morning to bring them within sight of the Hawk Tribes palisade. Like that of the Snow Leopard Tribe it was a simple affair of upright tree trunks embedded atop a raised earthen wall and tied together at the top with thick rope. The earth from which the embankment had been created had been scooped out around the village forming a deep ditch outside of which had been set sharpened stakes. At periodic intervals along the palisade guard towers loomed. The entire system created a formidable barrier against the sort of enemies usually faced by the Hawk Tribe, which until recently had been other Erogenians. However, having seen one of the magnificent cities of the Sandakar Zenaria was not overly impressed in spite of the fact that the fortifications rivalled anything in her homeland.
Arrayed near the gate were a number of warriors, both male and female as was traditional among Erogenians. Zenarias eye was immediately drawn to a striking young warrior who stood front and centre. He stood about three inches taller that she and was distinguished from those around him only by a magnificent cloak of hawk and eagle feathers that was draped over his shoulders. Like the other warriors around him he wore a long sword supported by a heavy leather harness that crossed over his chest. His thick golden hair fell naturally to his shoulders. He studied Zenaria and Shalandra with piercing blue eyes as they approached. King Theredin, I suppose, Zenaria murmured to Shalandra.
When they were about thirty feet away a man standing next to the king suddenly turned his head and spoke softy to him. Theredins gaze immediately flickered from Zenaria to Shalandra and then back again. Zenaria focused on the man who had spoken and noticed that he was the only warrior present who did not wear a sword. Instead he carried a gnarled staff and was dressed in the robes of a priest. Additionally his grey hair spoke of advanced years although he was not in the least stooped by age. Zenaria marked him as someone who might be worth cultivating if her mission was to succeed.
Nordag suddenly appeared which was a welcome relief to Zenaria as she was not quite sure how to proceed. This was her first diplomatic mission and she was making it up as she went along. Her efforts in this first encounter would teach her much about how to proceed.
Princess Zenaria; Princess Shalandra, Nordag said. May I present King Theredin of the Hawk Tribe.
I greet your majesty and bring tidings of peace and friendship from Queen Cirilia of the Snow Leopard. Zenaria did not bow. She knew enough about protocol to realize that as a princess she was of equal rank to Theredin, as much as rank mattered to Erogenian society, which was notoriously egalitarian. I bring you this as a gift from my queen and as a token of future trade and goodwill between our peoples. She held out her hand and gave him the one thing of commercial value she had brought with her from her homeland. It was a armlet carved from a single piece of amber and by sheer coincidence it was perfectly sized for Theredins bicep. The golden mineral was one of the few mined in the domain of the Snow Leopard, being found in abundance in the foothills of the mountains bordering the southern marches of the tribal territory. Other than furs it was the only commodity that outside traders sought after making the arduous journey to the lands of her isolated tribe.
Theredin took the armlet and held it up to the sunlight. The amber ring seemed to glow with an inner fire of its own. This is an exquisite gift, the king said, and deserves one in return. He twisted slightly and took out a jeweled dagger from a sheath at his side. I give you this in the same spirit of goodwill and hope that it presages good relations between the Hawk and Snow Leopard Tribes.
Zenaria nodded. So far the initial meeting seemed to be going well, but just how well she would succeed still remained to be seen. Up close she was surprised to note how young he appeared and guessed that he could not be much older than she was. It occurred to her that Theredin was no doubt thinking the same thing. Welcome princesses, Theredin said. I have long heard of the legendary Snow Leopard Tribe. Now I meet two of its representatives for the first time. I am most interested in leaning more of your mission.
He stepped slightly to one side and motioned that Zenaria was to join him as he moved through the gate. Zenaria sent out a mental command suggesting to Jaree that the strangers around them were not enemies or food. The leopard moved forward imposing her bulk between Zenaria and Theredin, however, it was the man in the robes of the priest that the leopard seemed most interested in it moved toward him and to Zenarias surprise began to purr loudly.
A most magnificent companion, the priest said, and then to Zenarias further surprise reached out and rubbed Jarees broad head, eliciting an even more pronounced rumble from the huge cat.
I am most impressed, Holy One, Zenaria commented. You still have your hand.
The priest looked unsmilingly at Zenaria, but there was a glint of humour in his eyes. I am Guntig of the North Wind, Shaman of the Hawk Tribe. I have no fear of your companion.
Or anyone else, Zenaria thought. The shaman exuded the sort of power Zenaria had sensed in Argonna, her own tribal priestess, and could now detect in Shalandra. Out of the corner of her eye she noted that Theredin was watching her interaction with the shaman and guessed that she had just made an important first step in establishing amicable relations with the Hawk Tribe.
They proceeded into the compound, Zenaria walking beside Theredin. Behind her came Shalandra, and also Guntig, who had fallen in beside her sister and was speaking quietly to her. Apparently the shaman had no trouble recognizing a kindred spirit.
As they entered the gates dozens of dogs barked challenges as they caught Jarees scent, but then suddenly quieted. Zenaria supposed that Guntig had probably sent out some mental command to calm them.
Inside the palisade there was much that was familiar, the links between the Hawk and Snow Leopard Tribes being more than obvious. The biggest difference was the amount of copper and silver on display. The Snow Leopard Tribe had little in the way of mining and the neatly stacked copper and silver ingots were an obvious source of wealth as were the numerous silver ornaments worn by the Hawk Tribes members. Zenaria now understood what was transported down the crude road they had walked on the way to the Hawk Tribe settlement.
As she had expected Zenaria was escorted to what passed for the royal court of the Hawk Tribe. It appeared to be a simple building, very much resembling the one her mother presided over, the main difference being a massive image of a hawk with outstretched wings that loomed over the main door. It was so skilfully carved that Zenaria almost expected it to come to life, especially as it had been expertly painted to match the colours of a real hawk. Its enormous golden eyes seemed to glare down at her in warning as she entered the hall.
As Zenaria stepped through the doors she saw that she had been mistaken about the building. The spacious interior of the central hall resembled a temple more than the convivial gathering place that she had expected. At each end of the hall their were twin stone hearths. Since it was summer there was no fire but it was obvious that during the colder months it served as both a dining and meeting hall. Each of the huge fireplaces contained large iron spits upon which to turn meat. However, it was the centre of the room that caught her attention. Mounted on a massive block of black granite was a magnificent hawk sculpted in white marble that was inlaid with gleaming seams of pure silver. It faced toward the doorway, its wings angled so that it appeared to be in the middle of a dive; light streaming in from a high window illuminated the statue so that it glowed almost blindingly. Almost without thinking Zenaria found herself going to her knees. Only when she was in a full kneeling position did she realize that Shalandra had copied her as had Theredin and Guntig. The shaman nodded approvingly and Zenaria got the distinct impression that she and Shalandra had just passed some sort of test.
The hawk totem, Guntig said, getting to his feet. The symbol of our people.
It is most is most powerful, Zenaria said, getting to her feet along with Shalandra and Theredin. She couldnt think of anything else to say.
That is its purpose, Guntig replied. And now I will leave you to our king. He moved toward the doorway while Theredin turned toward them.
As my guests you will stay in rooms upstairs, Theredin said, indicting a wooden staircase that led to the second floor. You must be hot and tired after your journey, and that splendid armour looks most uncomfortable.
Zenaria nodded her agreement and pulled off her helmet. You are right about that, your highness. Playing the role of ambassador is more of an ordeal than I thought it would be.
Call me Theredin, the king said. All of this formality is better suited to Kivalians. We have gone through the formal introductions, but now it is time to get to know one another. Tonight there will be a feast. Tomorrow we will talk.
They were escorted upstairs to a small but cozy room. It contained a bed large enough for two, a large wooden chest, and a copper tub large enough to hold an Erogenian warrior. A young Hawk Warrior girl had come with them. She proceeded to throw open the shutters and let the late afternoon light into the room. I will fetch water, the girl said as she left. She stepped warily around Jaree who had plunked her nine foot body in the middle of the room.
A feast, Shalandra said, unable to hide her excitement. That should be great fun.
Zenaria grinned at her sister. In only her fourteenth summer, Shalandra had not yet been to a single adult celebration. Only adult men and women were allowed to attend feasts and Shalandra had not yet had her first moon before she and Zenaria had left on their mission. This would be her first feast and she was obviously looking forward to it. Let us hope so, Zenaria said. Somehow I think the success of our first encounter might hinge upon just how well we enjoy the feast.
To the stars, Theredin bellowed, raising his large silver flagon high.
Zenaria echoed his words and gripping her drinking bowl with both hands quaffed a mouthful of the heady Hawk Tribe beer. She was working on her fifth bowl and was thankful that she had been raised on the much stronger spirits her people distilled from potatoes. Out of the corner of her eye she kept watch on Shalandra. Her sister was already showing signs of heavy drinking and Zenaria had no wish for her to disgrace herself by emptying her stomach in front of the King and his court.
Not that anyone would probably notice. A number of the Hawk Tribe warriors, both male and female had already succumbed to the numerous bowls of beer they had consumed. For most of them the drinking had started well before the actual feast had begun, and by the time the first large platters of meat had hit the tables they were well on their way to inebriation. Zenaria had modeled her drinking on that of Theredin, and had drunk only when he did. As a result she was relatively sober, relatively being the key word. She could definitely feel the effects of the beer and had to constantly hold herself in check to stop herself from breaking into one of her tribes bawdy and bloody battle hymns.
To the planets, Theredin sang. He had a powerful voice and an endless number of things he felt worth toasting. Zenaria doubted that he would run out before the beer did. She drank along with him, and then noticing that the King was occupied in an arm wrestling competition with Nordag, who she had discovered was the Kings cousin, she took the opportunity to excuse herself and make a break for the privies.
She took Shalandra with her, grabbing her sister under the arm and dragging her away from the attentions of several young warriors who had drawn her into a drinking contest. Wash you do that for? Shalandra slurred. I wash enjoying myshelf.
Just keeping your hymen intact for a few moments longer, Zenaria said. If you are going to give up your maidenhead you will enjoy it more if you can remember who did it.
His name wash Shalandra finished by mumbling something incoherently as Zenaria directed her toward the latrines. She had made sure of their location prior to joining the feast, previous experience having shown her that some things were best planned in advance.
The privies were strategically located over a section of the surrounding ditch into which a stream had been diverted. It served as a natural sewer although it was nothing like the impressive system for dealing with human waste that she had seen in the desert city of Uhra Don.
A screen of woven willow withes provided some privacy as Zenaria and Shalandra did what they had to. They had company; a number of other female warriors were also emptying their bladders and on the other side of the partition their male counterparts were doing the same. Zenaria decided that this might be a good time to retire from the festivities; however, she was not sure that she could do so without insulting the King.
She stepped from behind the screen, partly supporting a Shalandra who was suddenly having trouble walking. Shumting wrong wif my legsh, Shalandra slurred. I dont feel well.
Zenaria managed to get Shalandra back into the privies just before she released everything she had eaten and drunk in the last few hours. Not surprisingly the girl could barely stand and Zenaria rather unceremoniously scooped her up and tossed her over her shoulder. Bedtime for you, little sister, Zenaria muttered. King Theredin would just have to do without them.
She stepped out from behind the screen and almost ran into Guntig. The shaman nodded approvingly. It is well that you are here to watch over your sister, he commented. She has much promise, but must first learn some self-control. If the King notices your absence I will explain it to him.
Zenaria nodded her gratitude. I thank you Holy One. Your kindness is much appreciated.
Guntig waved his hand. Think nothing of it. Your sister is not destined to serve as common warriors bedmate. She has a greater destiny waiting for her.
Hefting her unconscious sister, Zenaria carried her away from the revelry of the feast and into the royal residence. She took a quick glance toward the feasting area and saw that Theredin was now engaged in some sort of contest involving the lifting of several female warriors at the same time. She somehow doubted that either she or Shalandra would be missed. Reaching their assigned room she plunked Shalandra onto the bed. Her sister moaned once in protest and then immediately resumed her unconscious state. Zenaria removed Shalandras finery and then pulled a blanket over the sleeping girl. Then she removed her own clothing and snuggled up beside her.
Morning came far too early. What an ungodly time for sunrise, Zenaria moaned. Her fur-covered tongue felt double normal size, and there was an exceedingly unpleasant rhythmic pounding between her ears. She squinted in the early morning night, and sat up woozily. From beside her came a low groan.
By the Moon and Sun, what did I do to deserve this? Shalandra whimpered.
I think it had something to do with the dozen or so bowls of beer you gulped down last night, Zenaria replied.
Was it that many? I didnt realize, Shalandra winced as she rolled out of bed. She held her head. Ooh, I shouldnt have done that. I need something to make me feel better.
Well youre the healer. Dig into your medicine bag and see what you can come up with. Zenaria rubbed her arms. She felt greasy all over, but didnt feel like a bath was the solution. I need a swim. And we passed a river on the way here. Im going to see if I can borrow a horse.
She dressed hurriedly, not bothering with her armour and headed down the stairs into the main hall. There she found King Theredin engaged in wolfing down several large slices of ham along with half a dozen eggs. Princesses, he said cheerfully, getting to his feet. I see you are finally up. Would you care for a little breakfast?
Zenaria noted that the King was washing down his meal with a flagon of beer. Her stomach gurgled. Behind her she could hear Shalandra gulping and breathing heavily. No thank you, Theredin, Zenaria responded. What I am really looking forward to is a morning swim. I wondered if my sister and I might borrow a couple of horses and ride to the river.
Most certainly, Princess. I will have Storvic select two mounts for you. The King motioned a young warrior sitting next to him who immediately got to his feet. He upended his bowl of beer and then wiping his mouth on the back of his hand strode from the hall, Zenaria and Shalandra following.
Ive never been on a horse before, Shalandra whispered as they neared the stables.
Neither have I, Zenaria replied, but Ive been on a camel. After that riding a horse should present no challenge.
It wasnt quite as easy as she had hoped, but she was right about it being easier than getting on a camel. And it helped that Shalandra used her shamans gifts to calm the two steeds Storvic had selected for them. However, the up and down motion of her mount soon had Shalandra wondering about the wisdom of riding to the river.
Wouldnt it be easier if we just walked? Shalandra quavered.
We are princesses and represent our tribe, Zenaria replied. It would not be proper to walk. Not after seeing that members of the Hawk Tribe ride.
Some members of the Hawk Tribe fly too, Shalandra grumbled. But I dont see you suggesting that we grow feathers.
I do what is possible, Zenaria replied haughtily. She urged her horse forward, hoping that she did not end up falling off and spoiling her display of horsemanship. Fortunately, she managed to hold her seat. It would have been embarrassing to fall off in front of the other Hawk Tribe warriors that rode with them.
Several women and girls, hearing of Zenarias plan had decided to accompany them. They formed an honour guard of sort and Zenaria noted that there was not a male among them.
Women and men are not permitted to bathe together, one of the women, a tall redhead called Wingard, explained. It is felt that it might lead to unseemly acts.
Yes, Zenaria agreed. I can understand that. She had certainly observed a number of unseemly acts during the feasting. Apparently Hawk Tribe modesty did not go beyond the act of bathing.
Reaching the river they dismounted, and tethering their mounts in a grassy area where they could graze, the women stripped off their clothing. Zenaria was first in, splashing into the slow current up to her breasts and then striking out toward the middle of the river.
The water was cold, but nothing compared to the rushing mountain streams of her homeland. More importantly it washed away the effects of the heavy drinking and the stickiness from her skin. Shalandra too was revived by the cold water bath. By the Moon, she gasped, I needed that. I felt as if ants were crawling beneath my skin. She rolled lazily over on her back and let the current carry her slowly downstream. Suddenly her eyes widened. Zenaria, she said slowly. There is a very large hawk circling over us.
I know, Zenaria said. Its been there since we stripped. Is it anyone we know?
The shaman, Shalandra replied. Guntig of the North Wind.
Perhaps we should give him a show, Zenaria said. She swam toward the shore with slow but powerful strokes of her arms, and reaching shallow water stood up and headed toward the bank, water streaming off her powerful and exquisite body. She heard Shalandra giggle and turned her head to see her sister following.
The summer months had been more than fruitful for Shelandra. She had grown at least three inches and now topped six feet, but more importantly she had grown in other areas as well and now displayed a full womanly figure, and although her breasts were still small by Erogenian standards, they were beautifully rounded with upturned rose pink nipples. With water beading on her fair skin she was a sight to behold as she stepped to the bank and Zenaria was not the least surprised when the soaring hawk seemed to stumble in mid flight and then fluttered to the upper branches of one of the larger trees bordering the river.
We seem to have made an impression, Zenaria said. Lets dress and ride back to the palace. I think I can eat now.
They rode back accompanied by their female entourage. Not surprisingly Theredin was no longer at the table, but there was still some food available. Zenaria and Shalandra grabbed themselves wooden bowls of oatmeal porridge and drizzling a little honey over the mixture, spooned it down.
Their breakfast finished they wondered what was to come next. Fortunately Theredin showed up and solved that problem for them. Im going out on a boar hunt and thought you and Shalandra might like to join me.
Zenaria suspected there was more behind the invitation than just sport. Theredin wanted to test the mettle of his two visitors. After all, neither Zenaria nor Shalandra had shown any special properties other that Jarees impressive presence and Zenarias ability to drink large amounts of alcohol. If they wanted the king to respond favourably to the idea of establishing relations with a tribe he had only vague knowledge of they would have to prove themselves.
We accept, Zenaria said.
Do we have to ride? Shalandra asked.
If you prefer you could hunt on foot, Theredin smiled. But since the boars run almost as fast as a horse I doubt that you will have much success. I will ready your gear.
The gear turned out to be a long spear with a thick shaft and wide blade. Apparently the idea was to run the boar down on horseback and somehow skewer it on the spear. Theredins nonchalant description of the event hid its real difficult; especially in the case of two novices who were far from expert horsewomen. However, Zenaria was now committed as was her sister, although the latters caustic comments left little doubt as to how she felt about it.
The next time you volunteer to go charging through the forest on one of those beasts ask me first before including me in your plans. Shalandra grumbled.
The beasts in question were saddled and waiting for them. Theredin mounted with the practiced ease of a man who had spent much of his life on horseback. Zenaria did her best to emulate him and then watched her sister scramble uncertainly onto the saddle. Several other Hawk Warriors rode with them, divided equally between men and women. They rode into the forest, the thick trees closing around them. Theredin stayed close to Zenaria, but the others spread out.
Im after a particular old boar, Theredin said. Hes been leading raids into our gardens and being generally destructive. Ive been after him for more than a year, but he keeps eluding me. However, he and his harem have been spotted rooting for acorns a league away. This time I intend to catch him.
It seemed a bit coincidental to Zenaria that this particular boar was the target of the hunt, but she said nothing, keeping close to Shalandra, and watching to make sure her sister was having no trouble with her horse.
Shalandra seemed a little more confident, having mastered a few of the basics of horsemanship, although she still had a tendency to clutch at her saddle. Zenaria remembered her first experience on a camel and sympathized. Although far from an experienced horsewoman, she felt confident she could keep up with Theredin provided he didnt ride too hard. And that was the case for the first half league; until one of the scouts caught sight of the boars. A shout from the lead riders sent Theredin and everyone around him into a gallop; everyone that is, except Zenaria and Shalandra.
Zenaria tried, digging her heels into the flanks of her horse as she had seen the others do, but she made the mistake of looking over her shoulder to check on her sister. Shalandra was coming through the trees at a trot, bouncing up and down, and trying desperately not to fall off. Her attempts were not helped by the fact that one hand waved her boar spear in the air while the other clung to the front of her saddle. She also had managed to lose one of her stirrups and was kicking frantically with her loose leg, trying to find it.
Zenaria shouted instructions to Shalandra just as a low hanging branch caught her just below her breasts, knocking the wind out of her and sweeping her neatly out of the saddle. For what seemed like an eternity she hung suspended, doubled over the branch; then her not inconsiderable weight and gravity took over.
She hit the ground with a thump, landing solidly on her buttocks, her boar spear flying from her hand. Behind her, Shalandras horse reared, in an attempt to avoid her, and there was a sharp cry as Shalandra too was flung from the saddle.
Shalandra, having had time to react, was the first to get to her feet. She hobbled toward Zenaria, limping slightly and rubbing her backside, an expression of concern on her face. Zen, are you alright? she asked as she went to her knees by Zenarias side.
Zenaria smiled as best as
she was able while trying to get her lungs to
work. Im alright,
she puffed, but I think weve lost our
rides. She watched in annoyance
as both horses disappeared into the
forest. Rubbing her derriere
Zenaria got to her feet.
So far using the boar hunt to further her diplomatic objectives had been a complete bust. Far from proving the value of the Snow Leopard Tribe as an ally it would probably appear to Theredin that he was dealing with complete fools. It was hardy the thing that alliances were made of.
The sound came from the side and Jaree stepped out of the thick undergrowth. She rubbed up against Zenaria, purring loudly, the weight of her body pushing her to the side. Zenaria wrapped her arms around the big cats neck and pushed her face into thick fur. I wish things were as simple as my relationship with you, she muttered.
She got to her feet, and stared into the forest the way the horses had gone. Perhaps the situation could still be saved. If they followed the horses they might be able to catch up with the wayward steeds. By now Theredin was well into the hunt. He probably hadnt even noticed that the two Snow Leopard Tribe warriors were not keeping up with him or if he had he likely didnt care. If they could get back on their horses they might still be able to join the hunt before it was too late. However, Jaree would have to go. She couldnt very chase after the horses with the huge cat trailing along. The scent of the big cat would send any animal flying. Zenaria sent out a mental image suggesting Jaree hunt. The big cat sent back a series of images blood, flesh, satiation, and finally sleep. Zenaria sent out a mental nod. Jaree had already made her kill and was ready for her usual day-long nap. The snow leopard moved off to one side and slunk into the undergrowth.
Come on, Zenaria said, moving in the direction she had last seen the horses, lets see if we can salvage this situation. Shalandra followed. She didnt even grumble, knowing the importance of the mission, but she ruefully rubbed her left buttock as she set out.
They moved as quickly as they could among the huge trees, listening for the sounds of the hunt and looking for the horses. Zenaria was not used to hunting in this sort of setting, although her first adventure had given her a sense of the vast forests of central Erogenia. She felt closed in by the massive trees and thick undergrowth. There were simply too many places for the hunted and the hunting to hide, and normally she would have proceeded cautiously. Caution, however, would not allow her to catch up to the hunt and so she hurried through the forest, looking left and right on the chance she might catch sight of the horses.
She never did find them. What she did catch sight of was a monstrous black shape that burst squealing out of the thick underbrush. Zenaria caught a bewildering vision of evil red eyes, eight-inch tusks, massive bristle-covered shoulders, and slashing black hooves. It was far too close to use her cumbersome boar spear or draw her sword. There was nothing she could do except attempt the first rule she had ever been given by the mother the queen when she had trained Zenaria in melee combat. Get out of the way!
It was too late to dart left or right. Zenaria flexed her powerful legs and vaulted backward, attempting to lift herself clear of the charging boar and away from the frightening tusks. She partly succeeded; the head of the boar passed beneath her, but the massive shoulders caught her heels and spun her like a pinwheel. It could have been fatal. The huge boar wheeled on a dime and came right back at her, moving almost impossibly fast. But Zenaria was equally quick. Somehow she twisted in the air and came down on her feet while at the same time drawing her sword. She landed on her toes, swinging the heavy blade even as she touched the ground. The edge caught the boar between the shoulders. It was a killing stroke, but to her surprise it barely penetrated the boars thick hide. It squealed in pain and rage and kept on coming, its yellow tusks aimed to rip her open. Her weight pitched forward in what should have been a killing blow, Zenaria could not avoid the boar and she twisted her body in an attempt to keep from being ripped open. And then there was a flash of fire followed by a crack like that of a gigantic whip and the boar was blown ten feet sideways.
Half deafened and completely stunned, Zenaria stared in amazement at the smoking corpse of the huge boar. The sweet smell of cooked pork filled the air. What in the name of the Moon? she gasped. And then her eyes found her sister.
Shalandra was staring also, but not at the boar or Zenaria, but at her hands, each of which was surrounded by a glowing blue nimbus. Her mouth open in wonder and surprise, she slowly turned toward Zenaria, the blue aura around her hands dimming and then dying out. What did I do? she quavered.
Shalandra, Zenaria breathed, you have come into your power. You are now a true shaman. She stepped up to her sister and clasped her hands. I must say your timing was perfect.
A foolish grin swept over Shalandras face and then slowly faded. But I dont even know what I did, she moaned.
Perhaps Guntig can help you, Zenaria suggested. He seemed very interested in you.
Perhaps, Shalandra answered doubtfully. At that moment the sound of hoofbeats interrupted and Theredin rode onto the scene followed by the rest of the hunting party. He took in the scene at once. I see, he grinned, that you have not only killed the boar but roasted it as well. I think this calls for another feast.