Monday, March 28, 2011

Koreshi Chronicles: Chapter II - The Great Cycle




35 Autumn, 1916

All The Bathani sat around the pyre of hollow-logs and listened to the tale of the Great Cycle that Jonas was sharing under the crescent moon. Todd was near the center of the circle; he didn’t want to miss a word of the story. At first he had taken notes, but it was explained to him that the Great Cycle - the tale which bound Koreshi history, law and prophecy into one narrative - was not meant to be written, only shared by word of mouth.

The Thral spoke of the sacred duty of the Koreshi to save the world as the world had saved them. The Ratir, the Ferah, and the Thral must each do his part, each in service of the seed of the world’s rebirth. Todd was disappointed that he had not been allowed to see the garden when they had been in the lush jungle of the Godwell Valley. As amazing as the place was - like a page torn from his books - he felt ostracized there, like an outsider. He was glad they were back in the desert, back within his own clan, and especially relieved that Lukas was getting better every day and that Lyta had come out of her depression. He would never feel like an outsider again. He would be a Sand Rider; he would be part of the Great Cycle. Until then, he remembered each word, reciting them to himself. One day, he thought to himself, he would be the one telling the story to others.

-----

14 Spring, 1917

Torgath entered Jonas’ tent and fell into a seated position in front of the clan Thral. He was sullen and did not meet Jonas’ probing gaze. “Will you speak to me of the incident with the Primtal clan?” Torgath shook his head. “I’m told the clan elder has disciplined you for fighting.” Torgath tried to defend himself, tried to yell out that it was the other clan, the Primtal, that had started it and that all he did was defend himself. But no words passed his lips. Jonas continued, his tone even. “You and Lukas will both take the punishment for what you have done. You are lucky no one was seriously hurt. You should know by now that an improperly saddled armadillo can be lethal.” Torgath couldn’t bear it anymore. “Koreshi should always inspect their mount before riding,” he blurted out defensively, his head still hanging.

“Yes, they should. You are correct. But that doesn’t forgive you and Lukas loosening them in the first place. Torgath, I know you know the customs. You are a quick and diligent learner. I also suspect that it was Lukas who proposed this ill-conceived prank. What I don’t know is why you went along with it.” Torgath raised his eyes to meet Jonas’; one was black and blue, and his cheek was healing from a recent cut. “It isn’t fair,” he muttered.

“They attacked you, did they not? More than one and you were unable to defend yourself. Lukas felt he had to avenge your honor and so you sabotaged their armadillo mounts and challenged them to a race. I understand.” Torgath looked up in amazement, wondering for an instant if Lukas had blabbered, then thinking that impossible.

“They were wrong to abuse you, but clans will occasionally fight,” Jonas began, but Togath interjected, “The Koreshi are all brothers, born of a common blood and beholden to a common scion.” Jonas nodded, acknowledging that Torgath had properly quoted the Great Cycle. “But Koreshi are also just men, and they will sometimes fight amongst themselves. But that is not why you are bitter, is it?” Torgath shifted in his position. He started but said nothing. Finally, he managed to utter through some of his emotions. “Why are we being punished and not the Primtal? They started it.”

Jonas nodded. "They will be dealt with by their elders and Thral, but it is more complicated than that.”

Torgath choked on his words again, trying to let them pass his throat. He sighed heavily and started again, more subdued but still with a stutter, “Because the one who hit me is a first-born and I’m not even true blood.”

Jonas looked Torgath in the eye and spoke to him evenly, though with a hint of empathy. “Yes,” he said simply.

“It isn’t fair,” Torgath repeated, mostly to himself.

----

14 Autumn, 1917

“The war is over?” Lukas asked, a hint in his voice that the answer would have far-reaching consequences, not only for Terra Nova but for the Lassanders. It was a crescent moon and the clan was huddled around the fire. Jonas nodded; the news had arrived that day, when they had crossed a caravan. The CEF had surrendered unconditionally a week before in the city of Westphalia. The Great Cycle spoke of the great threat to Terra Nova and how the Koreshi were meant to save the world; it was why they had come to Junira Loresh. Torgath had heard it all before, every word was imprinted on his mind, just as every gap was. He had asked Jonas why he could not learn all the Great Cycle. It was clear that sections of the story were always omitted or only obliquely referenced. Jonas had explained that only the Thral had knowledge of the whole Cycle.

Torgath was not a blood Bathani, only a protected member of the clan. As such, he could not become Thral; he couldn’t even become a dweller of the Godwell Valley, the Ferah Koreshi. He would spend his life a Ratir Koreshi, wandering the desert unaware and disallowed to choose his fate. Lukas didn’t understand why it mattered to Torgath. He didn’t understand that Torgath knew there was more to the Koreshi, more than they shared and more than they showed. They held a secret, and as far as Torgath was concerned, they hardly deserved it.

He had hoped the war with the CEF would relate to the cataclysm of the Great Cycle, that all would be revealed, if not to him in the secret mysteries of the Thral then at least as Koreshi in the time of upheaval and revelation. But now the war was over and he would not know what secrets the Cycle held.

----

35 Spring, 1918

Elder Maraja and Thral Jonas waited for Torgath by the springers. He approached them quietly, using the sound of the beasts to cover his footfalls and coming from downwind. Jonas still saw him well before he had reached their position. When he was in their presence he simply bowed, preferring not to speak. “Well met, Torgath,” Maraja said. Jonas said nothing. “Our Thral tells me we have neglected you, and I must make amends.” Torgath read in her tone something like irony, which didn’t surprise him. The old matriarch of the clan never let a word pass her lips which was not cynical, sarcastic, or suspicious. She was like a much older version of Lukas.

“You are not of my blood, but you are protected in my clan and you have done your duty to us diligently. Though at times you have erred, such things cannot scar your honor for a lifetime. You know well that if you had been of the blood you would have chosen your path at 13. Before you are 21, we must ensure you serve a role in the Ratir, lest you be outcast. We have need of a scout. Would you accept to be mentored by Ipshar?”

Torgath was so pleased he could only smile and nod his agreement. Maraja waved him away, and so complete was his joy to join Ipshar outside the main convoy of the clan that he did not mind Maraja’s comment to Jonas as he left. “Thank you for your suggestion. I am glad to have rid of him. And the other?” Torgath had not been supposed to hear the remark, or maybe he had but he didn’t care. He was rid of her and he could go with the scout to be alone in the desert, like a true Koreshi should.

-----

12 Spring, 1919

“The Imti’qhaan is coming soon.” The bright moon, just past its full breadth, shone down on the desert, and from their position, high on a dune in the Barrington Basin, the two scouts could see kilometers ahead. Torgath nodded. After a cycle of spending more than half his time with this one man scouting ahead for the Bathani caravan, he still couldn’t tell when he was simply making conversation or trying to make a point. “You have skills, my boy. I’ve taught you some, but you’ve also got heaps of talent that I can’t take no credit for.” There was a pause as Ipshar chewed on his sugar rot branch and spat out tasteless pulp. “I got to wondering if you were going to shake things up by competing this year in the Imti?”

Torgath knew it had been two weeks since Ipshar had strung that many words together into a single sentence, so out of respect he shared his own thoughts. “What’s the point? Even if I pass the seven trials or just excel at one, I’ll never be a Thral.” There was little bitterness in his voice; Torgath had accepted this injustice in the supposedly egalitarian society of the Koreshi a long time ago.

“Thral-shmal. There’s a whole lot more to life than being one of them. Ratir ain’t bad, but you could be Askar too.” The younger scout didn’t want to offend his mentor, a skilled Askar of the seventh level who had brought great honor to the Bathani clan.

“Well, why do you choose to stay out in the vanguard of the caravan, to sleep in the desert when you could sleep in a tent? What’s it matter what the others think, as long as I’m content?”

The older scout laughed, his grayish-brown skin deeply creased by the rays of Helios and age. “You talk like a Thral boy, but you don’t have your heart in it. Knowing the Cyle ain’t worth a spinger’s piss if you don’t know your own damned self. Every Thral knows that. So does every warrior and every farmer.”

There was a long silence. Torgath respected Ipshar. More than that, he cared for him and wanted his respect above anything else. “I’ll compete for you if it’ll make you proud,” the young man offered at last. Ipshar landed a heavy hand on his shoulder. “I am proud of you, son, no doubt there. The Imti’qhaan’s for your honor first, the clan second, and I don’t figure into it.”

“Don’t forget the Thral have their reasons, too,” Torgath added. Ipshar took his eyes off the desert for the first time during their discourse and looked at his apprentice with something like surprise. He chewed slowly, before finally looking out at the horizon once more. “Maybe,” he said nodding his head, “but we don’t get to choose our fate. It's already got us pegged. All we’s got is a fighting chance at going out with honour or fading with the sands, son. So says the Cycle.”



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