A fantasy story featuring the fictional lives of Temujin and his first wife Bortai in the days of their youths preceding his becoming Genghis Khan…
Bortai, Erdene of the Ontaggarit and eldest daughter to Otgonbayar Khan, woke up with a complete memory loss. She had forgotten the details of the alleged accident that had made her bed-ridden and that her father had been constantly evading to speak of. She had also seemingly forgotten her Aunt and Mentor in the Craft, while recognising every other significant personages in her life.
When Bortai found out about her impending marriage, an inexplicable sense of dread coming to her and her determination to take her own fate into her hands hardened her resolve to leave. Misadventures followed Bortai after she set her foot outside her own tribe, culminating in her stumbling into the middle of a tribal war in which she was forced to choose a side…
*will be updated once in a while as story unfolds
Bortai (*part obscured that are spoilers, will be added back in as story unfolds)
- 15, tall for a Crunalan, slim and shapely
- Formidable looking but feminine
- Sharp profile
- Thick eyebrows, big eyes
- P. line of jet black hidden within pupil
- Small mole on her right ear
- Enticing earlobes to Temujin
- Some Freckles on her nose
- Long pearly fleshy fingers
- Wears sky blue, green and brown
- Practically raised by Chechegin (Chechi)
- Koketani (Aunt Koka) can sometimes finish off her sentences
- Pride of maternal grandfather
- Go-b/w for maternal Uncle and Aunt
- Respected by all her siblings
- Selective about friends
- Along with her 2 friends Nala and Tolun, known as 3 flowers of the Ontaggarit
- Seems aloof to strangers
- Unrestrained with starting and putting a stop to relationships
- Apprehensive of mishaps with relationship w Temujin
- Forward looking
- Fairly good with a hunting knife
- Fair shot
- Good at knuckle throwing
- Hopeless at the flute
- Fair at wrestling
- Can sew
- Fair cook
- Drilling down for insights
- Good sense of direction
- Can get into circular thinking
- Aged beyond her years
- Can’t tell colour tones apart
- Doesn’t hold grudges easily (can be victim to malice in small ways)
- High tolerance for those loved
- Sensitive sense of smell
- Allergic to fur
- Vain with hair
- Has tendency to shoulder problems
- Learning under Aunt Koka
- Playing with siblings
- Attempts at Recollecting memories
- Wrestling practice
- Household chores
- Conversation with Khan-father
- Visiting Grandpa
- Muddled confusion
- When threatened, shows cold anger
- When tried for loyalty, smiles dangerously
- When pushed, pushes back
- When fearful, gets worrisome
- Faced with an obstacle, makes comprehensive plan
- In a new situation, moves out randomly
- When rejected, presents her back (a sign of her pride)
- When confused, gets insomniac
- Faced with routine, delegates
- If criticised, files away for future thought
Mannerisms and Quirks:
- Jet black line hidden within pupil shows when in anger
- Rubbing earlobe when deep in thought
- Have to think through a problem before resting
- Emotions displayed openly on face
- Smooths out creased eyebrows that she sees
- Speaks succinctly
- Left handed
- Clicks fingers when she’s heard enough
- Meticulous with hair washing procedures
- Once made up her mind, nothing could change it
Values, fears and secrets:
- Vales self identity and freedom
- Deep-rooted fear of loss of identity carried over
- Values family harmony
- Believes in fate
- Fears Aunt Koka’s lectures
- Fears Aunt Koka’s anger
- Believes in efficiency
- Doesn’t believe in extremes
- Childhood with father (both lives as Bortai)
- Times with Aunt Koka
- Times with sibling
- 16, tall, lean but muscular
- Not good looking but striking
- A face of sharp angles
- Face softened by age & air of untriedness
- A thick shock of hair
- Wolf’s gaze
- Pupil is a deeper shade of brown than others
- Eagle’s beak of a nose
- Stubbles on chin, growing a beard
- Likes to wear white or original fabric colour
- Eldest son of Yesegei and Hoelun
- Currently have 2 full-blood brothers and 1 sister
- 1 other mother and 2 half-brothers
- Pride/Hope of Yesegei and have high respect for Hoelun
- Rivalry with one of his half-brothers
- Anda (sworn brother) to Borochu and Nergui
- Leader of his peers
- Looked upon by many as future chieftain
- Charismatic and easily draws followers
- Betrothed to Bortai
- Persuasive talker/presenter
- Competent fighter
- Excellent strategist
- Proficient player of the tovshuur
- Cannot draw
- Good eyesight
- Good at packing
- A knack for remembering details
- Fair singing abilities
- Good dancer of the Mongolian waltz
- Occasional rashness
- Can take time to make decisions
- Can take things to the extreme
- Forever seeks to change status quo
- Drools in sleep sometimes
- Tells “white lies”
- Can over-work oneself
- Can hang onto relationships long past due
- Gets possessive abt love
- May not keep to promises esp. re: time commitment
- Mucking around with friends
- Learning under Yesegei
- Visiting Hoelun
- Weapons practice
- Visiting Elders and conversing
- Practising the tovshuur
- Tidying his ger
- Caring for his weapons
- Teaching younger siblings
- Longing/ Excitement
- When threatened, growls
- When tried for loyalty, digs heels in
- When pushed, don’t budge
- When fearful, defiant
- Face obstacle, persists in mowing it down
- If criticised, address immediately
- When rejected, tires again
- When confused, consults Hoelun
- Faced with routine, gets fitful
- In a new situation, chart out different approaches
Mannerisms and Quirks:
- Self assured bearings
- Frowns when deep in thought
- First drawn to people’s ears
- Firm voice
- Eats in a neat way
- Careful to avoid wear/tear of clothing
- Narrows eyes when disapproving
- Likes to add extra salt to koumiss
- Smiles when angry
- Gets insomniac when chewing over issue
Values, fears and secrets:
- Extremely protective of those he loves
- With a view for collective good
- With a view for the long term
- Believes in hard work to get one’s desires
- Believes in humility and open-mindedness
- Doesn’t believe in Fate much
- No particular fear at the moment
- Believes in working to establish own ideal world
- Cannot eat spicy food
- Has a fascination with ears
- Coming of age
- Hoelun’s bedtime stories
- Being taught the tovshuur by Hoelun
- Taught fighting by Khan-father
- Smile of Temulen
- Family gathering
- Listening to tales told by Elders
- Death of first Magul-anta
- First sight of Bortai
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CodexThe Return of the White Deer- Chapter 1 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
A new-school fantasy novel based on my Crunalan society of the Dragon Empire setting and various historical characters whose stories have been mangled up by the author’s imagination. Most critical readers welcomed!
The first ray of dawn pierced the ger through the circular opening on its top and descended on the two supportive poles like water dripping down an icicle. As it touched each symbol of the multitude painted over the surface of the poles, that symbol lit up in incandescence of the same flamboyant colour in which it was painted in. It was by this spectacle of multi-hued lighting that the corner of the ger facing west was illuminated. A girl on the cusp of womanhood lay face-up on a bed made of wood and simple craftsmanship. If the upturn of her mouth was any guide, either the bed was more comfortable than belies its appearance or she was having a sweet dream. She had a thick mane of black silk that flowed down to the middle of her back. One short strand of it playfully tickled her right ear, near her earlobe where she had a little mole. To this, however, she seemed to be totally oblivious. She had deep-sunken features, thick eyebrows, large eyes, a nose with few freckles and strong lips. It was not a feminine face, rather it would have looked quite formidable if she was awake. But in sleep, it had a different type of charm.
The girl-woman opened her eyes, which were a deep brown colour and startling only if one looked closely and observed the vertical line of black lurking within each of her pupils. Her hands flew to her temples, trying to assuage the pain that she felt were induced by the puncturing of two dull needles. The needles quickly withdrew, now that they had hit their targets. As her eyes came into focus, the first sight that she was drawn to was the ring of roof poles sloping upwards to form a perimeter around a perfect circle that opens up to the sky. Travelling downwards, her eyes took in two boles painted orange all over and then overlaid with garish symbols that she couldn’t quite make out at this distance. In the wide space between the two boles, smoke curling lazily upwards sauntered into her field of vision before the scent of smoke itself fluttered to her nostrils. Besides the irregular crackling sounds of burning logs, she picked up a melodic tune of breeze and earth coming from the direction of her feet. She might have gone back to dozing again if not for the cacophony she could hear outside. It was an odd symphony, being composed of the bawling of sheep, the whinnying of horses as they galloped off, busy footsteps, laughter and various dialogues mixed in. She felt a sense of comfort descending on her like a well-used blanket.
Then she heard it. A pair of springy footsteps approaching, partially subdued as if wary of the noise they made. As she concentrated on the sound, it became more muted while getting closer. Then the tent flap parted, admitting a small head that she could just see at the periphery of her vision. She turned her head idly and her gaze met with that of a pair of almond-shaped eyes embedded in a chubby face. “Elder sister!” A squeal of delight rolled out of the little girl’s peach pink lips before she disappeared again in a series of whirlwind steps. Only a few moments later, she bounded in again with a sizeable group in tow.
Her gaze locked onto the second individual in the group. Unlike the others who merely felt right to her, his was a face that was branded in the deepest part of her. It was the call of their common blood, that much she was certain of. She did not from whence the certainty came but she just knew. He was a man in the middle thirties who was handsome in a hawkish way. Despite the harshness of his features, she could tell from his even-paced way of walking that he had a mild temper. An inexplicable torrent of longing flooded her and she felt compelled to soak in every detail about him. Her eyes roamed hungrily over his bushy eyebrows, his odd-coloured eyes- the left one was brown while the other a lighter amber colour, his straight nose that was like the spine of a mountain, his smiling lips that naturally curl upwards …
A cluster of concerned faces were already hovering over her when she had disentangled herself from such a trancelike state. On either side of the man that she had so much yearning for, stood two prime-aged women. The one on the right looked about the same age as the man and was pleasant to look at. However, she would not be missed in a crowd. In contrast, the other woman was truly striking in looks. She had men’s features, which might have looked unbecoming on other women but not her. In fact, they accentuated her exotic charm.
Some commotion occurred among the group congregated at her bedside. More heads, including one already familiar to her, popped into her vision. Her gaze moved to the small girl who was the first person she had seen since awakening. At so close a range, the girl-woman could see that she was destined to grow up a beauty. Despite being plump around the cheeks, her overall face was shaped like a goose egg and she had the proud nose inherited from her father- the man with the hawkish features now holding her in one arm and lifting her up so that she got to beam at the bed-ridden girl-woman, revealing her dainty dimples. Tucked under the man’s other arm was a boy of only about three or four who was grinning. He was homely but pleasantly so, in a way that bespoke of a simple unsophisticated nature. Two other children- an older girl about twelve and a boy about the same age as the little girl, have also come to the fore. The older girl was petite and already a little beauty in her own right. She had a luscious mane of hair, big watery eyes glistening within a round face and a little pouty mouth. The other boy had essentially inherited the father’s features but his age and his own aura of reserved intellect softened them.
She opened her mouth to speak and found that what came out was like grinded pebbles. “Where am I?”
“In your ger”, came a voice of evergreens, spoken from the lips of the woman with men’s features. She shifted her attention to the woman and experienced in her eyes the heartfelt comfort and safety of being rhythmically rocked to sleep and of being melted away by the tenderness and indulgence that only a mother could give.
“My ger?” she found herself stumbling in the midst of the sentence, confused. It was then that she realised she had no recollections at all of who she was, what had happened to her that warranted her family to look on her with such concern. By now, she was fairly sure that these are her family. It was a feeling ingrained into her blood.
“Who am I?” she found herself asking in a totally composed way, as if she was somehow used to this state of being. A feeling of strangeness surfaced but quickly gave away to anticipation for the answers.
Looks of dismay were exchanged among her family but her father collected himself quickly and supplied her with a short outline of her life to date. She was Bortai, the eldest born to Otgonbayar Khan of the Ontaggarit and his first wife Chagantani, who died while giving birth to her. Thus she was practically raised up by Chechegin, the elder of the two women. She was also one of the close friends of Bortai’s own mother, who became the second wife of her father and mother to the two girls- Chagur and Chagan, as well as the younger boy Nachan. His father’s other wife was Arighdei, who birthed Baquder and their new-born sister Chachar. She was currently bed-ridden and would stay so for a while yet, as she had apparently fallen off her mount and breaking her legs. Judging from the expression of his father, there was probably more to it that her father did not wish her to know right now. Her first instinct was to question her father further but her father spoke before her. “Rest.” he said simply. And everyone promptly exited. Not long after, she found herself drifting off to sleep on a lullaby composed of the bustling prosperity of the tribe.
Bortai stared up at the circle of cerulean at the roof of her ger. She was still committed to her bed owing to her injury but at least she did not feel pain. As she reflected on the past few days, a wave of uneasiness washed over her. Even worse, some of the remnant sprays swished out their tails and tightened themselves in a knot around her heart. Bortai sighed. How she wished that she could have her memories back. Nothing had come back to her at all. Nothing. While she didn’t feel out of place in here at all, quite the reverse in fact, she couldn’t shake the feeling that the sense of familiarity she felt was somehow an odd sense of familiarity. Like she had been away for eons and have only just come back. Then there’s her ‘accident’. She had already tried several different approaches to get her Khan-father to speak up. Every time, though, he either deftly changed the topic or else assured her that there was nothing untoward about it while his eyeballs involuntarily shifted to the side so that he didn’t have to meet her speculative gaze head-on. His evasiveness was gnawing at her.
Bortai was so absorbed in this stream of thoughts that her heart hopped when she saw a woman had suddenly materialised beside her bed. Momentarily, Bortai had settled herself and was making covert examination of the woman. She had a voluptuous figure and was definitely a balm for the eyes. Unlike the rest of their people, she had brownish black hair rather than the black of midnight. She wore it in a single braid down her back that had various tufts of black, grey and white animal hair sticking out in places. As for her features, it was hard to say that any was beautiful by itself- she even had eyes that seemed mismatched in size owing to the fact that she had a single eyelid only for her right eye. Yet, together, they coalesced to form an artwork of nature. In fact, the entire essence of her beauty went beyond the physical realm but was instead based upon her aura of vibrancy, of spring, of nature itself. This was further accentuated by what she was wearing today: a kaftan the colour of fresh sprouts cinched at the waist by a belt of a darker shade of green.
She opened her mouth and her voice was like a fresh breeze on a hot summer’s day. “Borka?” She had a questioning look in her eyes and a sense of hopefulness burning underneath, as if she expected to be recognised.
She was destined to be disappointed. “I lost my memory after the accident, would you mind reminding me who you are?” Bortai apologised politely.
“I am Aunt Koka, also your mentor. You really have no recollections of me?” she persisted.
Bortai shook her head. She genuinely did not recognise the woman in front of her who proclaimed herself as her aunt and mentor. That puzzled her, as the first sight of her family and even her two friends (her sole two friends, she should say, judging by the fact that were the only ones besides her immediate family who had come to visit her during the ten-day that had just passed since she first woke up. Indeed the three of them were known as the three Chechegs of the Ontaggarits. She might have believed it from the mouth of Nala alone who in her opinion tended to be a trifle too vain except that Tolun, as practical as they come, confirmed it as fact) had drew a response from her on a subconscious level. But not this Aunt Koka. That made her wary, even though Bortai instinctively felt that the woman meant her no harm.
The woman who referred to herself as Aunt Koka frowned. “Do you have any recollections of your accident?”
“None, you have to ask Khan-father.” Bortai replied cautiously after a noticeable pause. Her reply caused a visible deepening of the crease on Aunt Koka.
“I was hoping I would get more enlightenment from you about what actually transpired than what the Dream Steed has alerted me to upon my return. The mental images he shared with me gave the impression that there was something untoward about it but was a bit erratic for comprehension. You know that only happens rarely.”
Dream Steed… Bortai latched onto the strange term and it was only when she saw Aunt Koka staring at her incredulously that she realised that she had said it aloud.
“Do you mean to tell me that you had forgotten about your Craft even?”
Glossary of Crunalan Terms
ger- the Crunalan word for a felt tent that they live in
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 10 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
A new-school fantasy novel based on my Crunalan society of the Dragon Empire setting and various historical characters whose stories have been mangled up by the author’s imagination. Most critical readers welcomed!
Bortai headed toward the ger of Temujin to lay bare all to him. Well, except for the parts involving reincarnations and ‘travel’ across worlds. Those were just too strange and she did not have a proper understanding of them herself so it would be better to keep her own counsel on them. As she walked, she became self-conscious of her heart skittering like a panicked fawn. She felt a little ashamed of acting like a lovesick girl of fifteen (which was her physical age but her mental age was a different story altogether). Consequently, she was hanging her head low and invariably, she collided with a barrel chest.
“Sorry”, Bortai apologised while rubbing at her scalp, which she felt must have been bruised by the barrier of flesh she had just hit that might as well be stone.
When she lifted her head again, she saw a bemused smile on the youth whom she had crashed into. Her eyes quickly roamed over him and she could see that he had indeed the brawn to go with that impregnable chest. Quickly lowering her eyes in embarrassment, she bade him farewell and was about to scurry off. However, he intercepted her with his observation, “You seemed to be heading towards Temujin’s ger.”
Bortai looked up at him and asked politely, “Yes, I am.” Then she sent him an unspoken question with her eyes.
“Last time I saw Temujin, he was carrying his Hunter’s Pack and supplies for a long trip. That was about half a ten-day ago.”
Bortai gave him her thanks and the two parted company. After pausing to think for a while, Bortai decided to pay a visit to Hoelun, First Wife to Yesegei Khan and the mother of Temujin. From what Bortai gathered of the periodic reminiscing of Temujin and Hoelun of their times with Yesegei Khan, Yesegei Khan always conferred with this remarkable woman before and after major decisions, just as her own Khan-father relied on the advice of Chechi and Aunt Koka. Failing to find Temujin, the next logical choice for her to turn to would be his parents.
It was as she had guessed. When she got to Hoelun’s ger, she could hear Yesegei’s strong deep voice conversing with a female voice that she instantly recognised. Hoelun had a way of speaking that made every note come out round, which made her sound extremely cultured. This was quite distinct within their society, as everyone else tended to speak in a more free natured way. And yet, no one would stare askance for her for such a hallmark. No, she wholly belonged to and fitted in. In fact, she would never look out of place anywhere, whether it be the simple but hard life that the Mongols led before Temujin united them all or living in a palace as Mother of the Great Genghis Khan at the zenith of the Empire. Such was the magic of Hoelun- serene, self-possessed, eminently adaptable and ever unchanging at the same time.
When Bortai detected a lull in the conversation inside the ger, she lightly coughed to make her presence known before requesting entry. It was Hoelun who answered giving her assent. Bortai warmed to her undertone of motherly tenderness (which she characteristically and quite unconsciously carried) and smiled despite her nervousness.
After she had entered into the tent, her eyes locked onto Hoelun of their own accords. Hoelun was exactly as she remembered her, except for being substantially younger. But then Hoelun had aged gracefully- no, those would be wrong words to use indeed. In her senior years, Hoelun had not just retained the attractiveness of her features, whose charm had always been that the longer you looked at them, the more you became enamoured of them. The wisdom she had accumulated over the years had actually made Hoelun a striking beauty that blossomed late, at an age when all other women should and would be withering.
The three of them quickly settled down to business after the customary greetings were exchanged. Bortai struggled somewhat before making a direct opening, “I have come to laid bare the truth, about myself.”
Both Yesegei Khan and Hoelun looked at her curiously but did not rush her.
“I did not give my real name at the Ctofalir but now I believe it is time that I state who I truly am.” Now that Bortai had made her start, she found that words simply flowed out of her. “I am Bortai, daughter of Otgonbayar and Chagantani of the Ontaggarit.” She paused momentarily, giving time for what she had just revealed to sink in, and for Yesegei Khan and Hoelun to react how they would.
Yesegei gave a hearty laugh that took Bortai by surprise. “I thought you looked vaguely familiar,” he said in his booming voice, “You have your father’s eyebrows and his nose. So how has he been? Have not seen him since we arranged the match between you and Temujin. You were but a babe in your father’s arms. So how come you here?”
Bortai gave a summary of her life events starting from the point that she woke up from her accident, omitting little save the parts that she had decided to keep forever private. When she got to describing her Bride Test, however, she blushed. That met with boisterous laughter from Yesegei and a slight but approving smile from Hoelun.
“So what do you think of Temujin as your husband? Do you see him as a fit match?” Yesegei asked with a twinkle in his eyes that brightened even more when Bortai briskly nodded her assent. In fact, he threw back his head and laughed. He also praised her for being ‘a true daughter of the Steppe’. Hoelun looked upon the scene with an indulgent smile.
“I was told that Temujin had ridden off.” There was an unspoken question in Bortai’s eyes even though she had framed it as a statement of fact.
“I sent Temujin, along with Borochu and Nergei, off as only one of the many parties to negotiate alliances across the Steppe. Their first stop will be your own tribe and that of Temujin’s wife-father.” Yesegei said the last with an impish smile.
Suddenly, Bortai felt apprehension. Bortai did not have a clear idea of why- it might have been part of the power she held as a Sister or it might be the intuition that came with having a greater wealth of life experiences, but she felt that she had a keener instinct over whether certain events boded good or ill compared to when she had recovered her memories. And hearing the news of Temujin’s whereabouts just then, she had definitely felt that it would come to a bad end if she did not get besides him in time. She said so to Yesegei and Hoelun but omitted to mention her premonition, saying only that she wished to catch up to him to tell him the truth herself. Yesegei smiled knowingly and declared that he would send two escorts with her in case of mishaps. Bortai thanked him and then scurried off to make her preparations. Consequently, she missed the troubled expression that had passed across Hoelun’s face as she strode out of the tent.
After days of hard riding, Temujin and both of his andas were walking rather than astride their magulandas. Even though the maguls of the Crunalan Steppe was of a sturdy breed and could run tirelessly for ten-days if need be, the three of them decided that while the business at hand certainly brooked no delays, there was yet no need to push their magulandas so early in the journey. Meanwhile, masses of grey storm clouds drooped over their heads, hanging so low that it felt like one could touch them if one only reached up a little. And yet it felt suffocating, as if the very air was somehow cloying. The three youths did not make conversation as they trudged along, pulling at the collar of their kaftans which suddenly felt too tight.
Suddenly, Nergei gave the hand signal for them to halt. The other two looked at him and mouthed silently, What? In response, Nergei cupped his right hand around his ear. There was just the sound of grasses swaying in the wind. No sounds of game or other animals. An unnatural quiet lay ahead of them.
The three of them exchanged a glance. Borochu motioned for them to veer off to the left in order to circle around the ambush. Yet, the ambushers must have realised the folly in their chosen disguise or else having been alerted by the unnatural occurrence of oncoming footfall suddenly falling completely silent. Other men might be fooled to think that this meant their prey have paused on the spot but for the most skilled Crunalan hunters, they knew that trickery was at hand. Regardless of the reason, their ambushers promptly discarded any subterfuge and waylaid them before they had covered much distance. The numbers of ambushers were more or less as they had expected. They were nine in total, one of them having quite a small stature for a Crunalan man. All had a seasoned look about them and each was gazing at the three young warriors like a wolf closing in on its kill.
Bortai and her two escorts (she barely had time to ask their names, which she had already forgotten by now, before she bade them to start off with all haste) had ridden at a frantic pace, spurred on by the dread within Bortai’s heart. Over the past few days, apprehension had deepened to dread. Bortai was convinced that something had already happened to Temujin, else she could find no reason for her heart to skid in such a haphazard fashion. Consequently, Bortai had set a grilling pace, speeding off in the hopes that she would arrive in time.
Overhead, the noon sun was showing its smiling face in full. The Wolf-teeth Moons were almost waning into the Slumber Moons such that Bortai would have normally appreciated the fingers of sunray that brushed against her face for chasing away the first hints of chill that had already set into the air. Yet, all she felt at that moment was a teeth-gnashing annoyance at feeling such additional heat on top of that flushing through her blood.
Bashudai twitched her nose at the scent of blood that had suddenly assailed her nostrils. She sent out a silent warning to Bortai. By then, Bortai’s her companions had probably been alerted by their four-legged brothers too. All three of them scanned vigilantly ahead for signs of trouble while their mounts carefully padded across the lea on long strides. The sounds from their hooves blended in seamlessly with the noises on the Steppe, as only horses native to the Steppe could.
It wasn’t long when the dings of metal clashing against metal rang out ahead. Even without urging on their parts, their mounts quickened their paces. The scene that came into Bortai’s sight made her heart leap into her mouth. Temujin and two other youths were fighting back to back, each of them bathed almost from head to foot in blood. Stalking them and keeping them fenced in a ring were five men who had more or less taken cuts A little off to the side, Temujin’s Qulan was battling two more and not far on the ground lay the motionless figures of two men and two horses.
Bortai and her two escorts bore down on the enemies keeping Temujin’s party hemmed in, breaking their formation. Fast as lightening, Nergei slashed out at one of the attackers on his left and ran towards them. He was followed closely by his two andas, who then each vaulted onto the mounts of Bortai’s party. Behind them, a crunching noise could be heard and then a series of urgent hoof beats following in their wake.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 11 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
A new-school fantasy novel based on my Crunalan society of the Dragon Empire setting and various historical characters whose stories have been mangled up by the author’s imagination. Most critical readers welcomed!
The New Moon shone pale against the backdrop of black velvet that was the sky. In contrast, various constellations competed intensely in a race to outshine each other. In the centre of the Celestial River, the Two Hares bounded ahead of the stalking Fox whilst continuously throwing furtive glances behind and inevitably faltering a little in their steps. At such times, the eerily lit eyes of the Fox would shine forth somewhat brighter, heralding the great leap it was about to make in order to close in with its preys. But then, the Two Hares would unerringly find their footing again and adeptly swerve to the side such that the Perpetual Chase would begin anew. Behind the Fox strode the Hunter, who spent the Steppe and Blood Moons hunting the Fallow Deer prancing merrily above the Fox while chasing after the Wilful Maiden for the other half of the year. Just now, the Maiden was tossing her hair and laughing, keeping most of her gaze on the Perpetual Chase above her but periodically teasing and enticing the Hunter to follow on her heels. She seemed like a wholly different person from the kneeling figure who spent most of the time with her entire face cupped within her hand and only occasionally looking up to show a tear-streaked face- the Weeping Maiden as she was at such times. Bortai did not care for her in either form. She much preferred her sister, the Silent Maiden who had all of her attention fixed on interacting with the Dying Rack. Although she was not as ethereally beautiful as her sister, the sense of absorption in her own realm that she showed stroke a chord deep within Bortai.
Tonight, however, neither Bortai nor Temujin took heed of the aerial mosaic unfurling before their eyes. For they had eyes only for each other. Bortai suddenly experienced an urge to twist her hands. She stole a glance at Temujin and could see that he was also unsettled, as if plagued by an invisible itch. She chuckled inwardly at the sight- it was a long time, one and a half life time, since she had seen her husband behaving out of his element. The sight prompted another set of memories to flood back into her consciousness, the memories of their time together when he was living at her tribe to cover her bridal price. A sense of warmth suffused her, arriving on the heels of her mirth at seeing the behaviour of a youthful Temujin that relegated the cloak of nervousness holding her in thrall just moments ago.
“I came to find you.” Temujin heard a husky voice speak those words and he felt like his heart was being caressed tauntingly by a slender feather. He looked up and was mesmerised by the eyes that hung before him. Under the moonlight, it appeared to be a darker and richer colour than the usual brown common to Crunalans. Furthermore, a vein of ebony lurked within, only visible when the constellations timed their flow and ebbs such that the overall lighting was just right. He could feel the great depth in them, the seeming depository and dam of experiences unfathomable to him. In contrast, the emotions contained within them were laid open for him to see. Wistfulness, longing, admiration and a sense of promise, of love and much more. He felt a shuddering within his own spirit that became more intense when it spoke his name after a momentary pause, “Temujin.”
But that proved just the start of the fascinating night Temujin spent listening to his love tell of the remarkable sequence of happenstance through which Fate led them to each other. He remained motionless even long after she had stopped talking, almost trancelike.
Bortai glanced at Temujin. She had told all to him, again withholding the parts too out-of-place in relation to the experience of the actual Bortai belonging to this world and meant naught where it counted, or so she told herself. She knew that it might take a little absorbing before he could react- such was the nature of Temujin, one generally given over to contemplation despite occasional acts of extreme rashness. So she waited contentedly but vigilantly for the unfolding of Temujin’s reaction.
Temujin moved only marginally, like a statue barely awakening to flex a tiny part of his stiff body. Yet, Bortai caught it and smiled. Her smile became even wider when she noted the ember that burned bright in his irises. Wordlessly, she cleared away some wayward strands of hair that had fallen across her right ear and turned slightly.
The stars seemed to twinkle in merriment as the young lovers consummated their love when the man bended over to kiss the woman on her earlobe, lingering especially on the spot where she had a little mole.
Bortai’s party, now six strong, rode into the main camping ground of the Yorgu, the Northern Eastern neighbour to the Ankali. Answering to the mental summons of Borochu and Nergei sent immediately after their successful escape from ambush, their Second magulandas finally managed to catch up with them barely two days ago.
Bortai gazed with some curiousity upon the dominant colour scheme of the Yorgu, which was a dusty yellow reminiscent of the desert. Compared to the vermilion of the Ontaggarit and the simple black and white of the Ankali, it was a desolate colour, making Bortai think of decay and abandonment. But to each his own. Unlike the Mongol society that Bortai was accustomed to, which was rather unsophisticated in all crafts and manufactured goods, the Crunalans were at least highly proficient in the art of dying. The Crunalan Steppe was not just rich in lush grasses that nourished their equine brothers and sisters and herbs that had healing properties but also a variety of plants that could be turned into dyes of many vibrant and whimsical shades. Hence, while it was usual for the foundation poles of a Crunalan ger to be garishly decorated by many different colours- as she had seen upon first awakening, it was also their customs to choose one or two colours at the maximum to dye the outer layer of the gers in. It was for the spiritual unity of the tribe, so that it would not only be reflected in the essence but also by appearance through an uniform colour scheme. And the number of Crunalan tribes were plentiful such that there was no accounting for tastes among such a multitude.
Whilst on the road, the party had conversed briefly about the first of their destinations- Bortai’s own tribe, and plotted out the path they would be taking and the necessary stops in between. Like the Mongols, hospitality was an integral part of the Crunalan culture and any traveller on the Steppe could expect an offer to be taken in as a guest within a ger in the case that he did not carry one of his own. The Yorgu was the first stop along their chosen path. From what Bortai’s companions had spoken of, Bortai gathered that it had been an amiable enough neighbour to the Ankali but there was no real relationship between the two tribes.
As each of the party members had brought their own gers on this journey, they were ushered straight into the ger of the Khan for the Yorgu. This was a custom among the Crunalans. Any one guesting with another tribe would be brought in front of the Khan to share news and gossip, to find whether there could be a common lineage traced between the guest and their hosting tribe through the help of the pedigree keepers. Since Bortai was not a genuine native, she did not really understand why (being able to communicate with horses by telepathy seemed to Bortai magical enough) but somehow the pedigree keepers and the shamans were the only ones considered to wield magic in the Crunalan society. In contrast to the shamans who might dabble in many elements within the supernatural realms, the magic of the pedigree keepers was simple and focused on one aspect only. Within each tribe, there were only handfuls of these remarkable personages (of course, shamans were even rarer). Each of them could flawlessly recount the entire lineage of their clan back to the initial off-springs of the union of the Blue-grey Wolf and the White Deer- the creation myth for the Mongols and the Crunalans was virtually the same except for the negligible difference of the deer being a fallow deer in the Mongolian version. Moreover, while each lineage was recorded with the patriarchal blood as the basis, the formal names of each females who married into the lineage were equally honoured and a pedigree keeper could detect at a glance whether someone’s blood had ever intermingled with his clan with precise details of how that came about. Thus, many of a visitor was delighted to find a previously unknown distant relation among the tribe that he was guesting at, with the hosting tribe being as equally pleased.
Such was indeed the situation the party found themselves in, when the pedigree keeper of the chieftain’s very own clan declared that one of the Chief’s distant aunt from generations back was related to both Borochu and Temujin, the former being more closely related compared to the latter. Immediately, the Chief called for his sons so that the party could meet the distant cousins of Temujin and Borochu.
The party did not have long to wait before three youths barely into their twenties strolled into the ger of the chieftain. As the chieftain made his enthusiastic introductions, Bortai found the time to peruse the three of them in detail. The eldest son of the chieftain- Donoi by name, was a bear of a man. Yet, despite being the mightiest physically, Bortai would say he was the youngest if she had to hazard a guess by herself. He had both a petulance and jumpiness about him that suggested that he was well spoiled. The middle son Khalja was only marginally shorter than his elder brother but as lean as a willow. Yet, there was a certain resilience to him like well-made leather or days old meat jerky. In a way, he reminded her of Nergei although he appeared capable of devising insidious schemes which Nergei certainly couldn’t and wouldn’t. The youngest among them, Sartak, was a bright eyed lad with a cherubic face. Yet, Bortai felt especially cautious and even mistrustful about him as she could detect nothing of him beyond what he had chosen to convey of himself, which was all youthful ignorance and curiousity.
“Now I would leave all you young ones to talk.” Bortai heard the chieftain say before he promptly exited the ger, presumably to run some errands.
Surprisingly, it was Khalja who ventured to speak first. He appeared to ask casually but Bortai thought there might have been some undertone hidden within his words, “So what brings our fair neighbours here?”
The party had already decided that it would be better to keep the purpose of their journey hidden to strangers encountered on their journey, given the distinct possibility that their ambushers were still hot on their trails. Consequently, Temujin politely smiled and replied that they were planning to visit relatives living in regions further east without being more specific.
Donoi’s eyes widened only momentarily but Bortai was sure that everyone remaining within the ger caught it. Bortai’s intuition told her that some devilry was at work. Meanwhile, Donoi seemed utterly unaware that he had already given himself away. He gleefully plunged into the conversation before any of his younger siblings had the chance to utter a word and visibly gloated over this ‘achievement’ of his, as if it was a major triumph.
“So you will be passing near the Dale of Luugas?” he eagerly asked. Khalja and Sartak were far more subtle but Bortai could feel rather than actually see that they were perking up for the answer.
The Dale of Luugas was about a week away from the Yorgu territory. It was an odd landmark- a shallow gourd-shaped valley several miles in length that just occurred amidst the Steppe, which otherwise would have been an unbroken grassy plain seemingly stretching to a distance unfathomable. The party had already decided to circle around the right side of it. What Temujin replied was “Oh yes, we will be sure to travel through it. Bortani here had quite a knack for herbs.” Besides the somewhat mysterious circumstances of how it came about, the Dale was a place where many uncommon plants with healing properties grew and so it was considered a place of good rather than ill fortune among the superstitious Crunalans. Thus, it was true that many involved with the art of healing frequently visited it.
The conversation that followed was essentially an alternating sequence of clumsy probing of Donoi followed by adept evasion or diverting by Temujin. Bortai did not waste time on noting any of its details. Her mind had been long turned to probing yet another strand of the indecipherable and imperfectly formed web of schemes, hanging above but quite out of their reach, that she felt had just fallen into place.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 12 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
Borokhula leaned languidly on the sturdy hide that formed the walls of the ger as Donoi and all of his ‘followers’ gathered to confer on what blessing Tengri had just saw fit to bestow upon him. He snorted internally but no one could detect it from underneath the feline boredom that he habitually cloaked himself in. Then contempt turned to amusement as he saw Donoi giving a verbal lash to one of his lackeys who had inadvertently said something that displeased him while trying to gain his favour. The speed at which Donoi could change moods never ceased to amaze him and it was… well, entertaining at the very least.
With mocking slowness, Borokhula made the gesture for yawning. “Have we gathered merely to bicker? If so, I think I will go back to my own ger to nap a while.”
A heavy but fragile silence fell, as if it could be shattered any moment by the merest of air flow.
As Borokhula looked on impassively, worms seemed to be burrowing in and squirming under Donoi’s face. Borokhula idly wondered how the same expression would look on his own face and quickly decided that it would look quite unbecoming. Then, before he could pursue another train of thought, a smile meant to be obsequious but came out like Donoi had a tooth ache greeted him. Borokhula donned an impatient expression and then gave Donoi a curt nod, a signal he had devised that meant state your business promptly.
Donoi gave another awkward smile before settling down to retelling his conversation with the visitors that had just arrived after sunset. Borokhula listened with interest as Donoi described each of them in turn. What intrigued him especially was the pair of young lovers- they did not declare themselves as such but Borokhula could tell from what Donoi spoke of. He even stopped Donoi at places to question him on certain aspects about the two, much to the annoyance of Donoi though Donoi dared not show it. After Borokhula had done with his ‘interrogation’ of Donoi on the details, Donoi looked at him with an expectant look.
What a fool , Borokhula thought distastefully of Donoi, knowing that he had already given himself away to Khalja and Sartak. Borokhula gave him an enigmatic look and simply shrugged. “What do you care for them?” The question clearly caught Donoi unprepared and he struggled to make up an answer.
Borokhula, however, did not spare him any time and pressed further. “What have they to do with the ‘blessing’ Tengri sent you?” He felt imminently satisfied to witness the frozen shock on Donoi’s face. This time he relented rather than exerting more pressure but he let the corner of his mouth turn up ever so slightly.
“The… the Master,” Donoi blurted out. His sentence ended in a constricted voice, as if he had just uttered something he was not meant to say.
The barely perceptible smile on Borokhula widened into an actual grin but his eyes seemed to have turned serpentine. Not in actual form but in the feelings they projected- a soul-numbing chill preceding the rise of goose bumps. “The Master, an interesting title for one to don.” Borokhula said in a voice as if he was merely undertaking idle speculation about some frivolous pursuit that had momentarily taken his fancy.
“I… I cannot say more.” Donoi said in a trembling voice.
“Now, couldn’t you? I wonder.” Borokhula’s eyelids seemed to have grown suddenly heavy and had fallen down such that only a slit could be seen of his eyes. Silence had descended again, with everyone holding their breaths for the appearance of a forked tongue and a hiss.
Donoi was clearly unnerved, his massive body seemed to have shrunken in on itself. He swallowed hard once and then answered in a voice as if enthralled. His eyes were certainly glazed over as he embarked on telling Borokhula about how the Master ordered him to track down a youth named Temujin and kill him, the great rewards the Master promised him and then pattered on about the power of the Master.
Borokhula frowned. He had a feeling that Donoi was not just fooled by whoever he called the Master (like how he himself took advantage of Donoi’s stupidity). There was something distinctly off about Donoi’s enthusiasm for this Master, as if he was truly under thrall.
At Temujin’s behest, the party had gathered within Temujin’s ger. He had only said that the issue that he wanted to discuss was urgent without elaborating on any details. Thus all of them were looking at Temujin expectantly with ill-disguised curiousity.
Without further ado, Temujin brought out a piece of obsidian and passed it to Bortai. It felt unbelievably light in her hands. Curious, Bortai brought it closer for a better look. It was not obsidian after all, for it was a prism that seemed to have captured several blooms of white clouds within it. It reminded her a little of marble, the material known as “cloud stone” in Chinese due to its appearance. Except this was much more beautiful. But judging from the look on Temujin, she was clearly not shown the stone for its beauty so she gave him a quizzical look. “It is a thought-stone, used to record a thought, a way to pass messages without giving away one’s own identity.” Temujin explained. “You use it like this.” He proceeded to show her by wrapping his hand around hers and shifting them such that they were touching her forehead with the thought-stone being wrapped within her palms. Immediately, Bortai felt a sense of urgency emanating from within the stone. The reception of content from the thought-stone was an entirely difference experience from communicating with horses via telepathy, unlike her expectations. Whereas the equine minds always responded in static images (sometimes a series of them), the thought-stone is a repository for not just casual thoughts but a plethora of associated emotions and nuances. When Bortai was done with the thought-stone, she frowned and wordlessly passed it off to the right, to Jelme (the other was Muwali, Bortai had since found out) who had accompanied her on the chase of Temujin. She fell into deep contemplation over its contents and so missed the fact that everyone was staring at the two of them. She only realised it when Temujin said, “Bortai had recently lost all of her memories so there are aspects that she has not yet relearnt.”
A stunned silence ensued. “All of her memories, you say?” Borochu’s eyes went round and then an expression came onto his face, as if his mind had just caught something. “Wait, what did you just call her?”
After receiving a nod from Bortai, Temujin briefly outlined her real identity and the circumstances leading up to her stumbling into the Ctofalir. Bortai felt heat creeping onto her face when Borochu gave her a speculative look.
Seeing her discomfit, Temujin lightly coughed and reminded the gathered that it was time to get back to the business of the thought-stone. After all had a chance to absorb its contents, Temujin said in a low voice, “I found this left in my ger after I came back from relieving myself.”
All of them were disconcerted by this revelation, if the content of the thought-stone was not already alarming by itself. Nergei especially was disturbed. For it was his habit to stay alert in unfamiliar surroundings. Yet he had certainly not observed anyone slipping in and out of any of their gers, which were all set up within vicinity of each other. He distinctly remembered that he was keeping his attention on the entire area of their gers during the period Temujin mentioned. That meant that someone had slipped through his guard and Nergei shuddered at the consequences if that someone’s purpose was more sinister. Also, Nergei wondered about the motive of their mysterious ‘ally’ who had left the warning in such a discreet way. Somehow, Nergei had the feeling that this secretive person was not entirely a bystander to the schemes directed at the party that he hinted at- while a thought is usually genderless, Nergei’s intuition told him that this particular thought recorded was from that of a Crunalan male. Given the unknown motive of this man, Nergei doubted that the warning should be taken at face value. He said so to the other members of the party.
Bortai was the first to voice assent. That was precisely how she felt. Granted that there was no other way to leave a discreet message- like the Mongols during the times before Temujin united them, the Crunalans had no written language, Bortai could decipher that the urgency associated with the thought was solely for the upcoming situation for the party that it warned of but not in any way linked to the actual welfare of the person from which the thought originated from. And yet, the person did not feel overly-confident to her in any way and she had always been a good judge of other people’s characters. Hence, it had to be that if the person was found out, he did not foresee danger for himself. So then, why the secrecy if he had not his own agenda?
Both Jelme and Muwali became thoughtful while Temujin frowned. Out of reflex, Bortai ran her hand over the crease just materialised in an attempt to smooth over it. Now she knew how she had developed this impulse that she had put to action many times on her younger brother Bacquder, which Bortai knew he did not quite like but tolerated from her.
“But surely the warning is true, even if the person who sent it might not be?” Borochu voiced his opinion.
“Even so, how do we ascertain whether anything was omitted? To act on its advice might lead to a fate as unpleasant as acting on it.” Nergei said after some time.
“But what can we do? Surely you are not suggesting that we track down this mysterious person and then decide what to do.” Borochu said while scratching his head.
Nergei shook his head and said, “I only mean that we should ponder some more and act with caution upon the content of this thought-stone. To flee mindlessly upon the advice of one whose motive is not pure seems an act of folly.”
“I think we should follow the advice of the thought-stone.” Bortai’s words made everyone turn to her. “I do not know whether the person had omitted anything but he was certainly not forthright with his role in the schemes. Yet, I do not think he means us harm. Else he could simply not bother to notify us at all.”
“I say we vote on whether we heed the thought-stone or not, now that we have heard both sides.” Temujin suggested as the prelude to concluding the meeting and then announced his choice. “I trust Bortai’s judgement on this.”
“I said leave this place, and I will say it again.” Next came Borochu.
“Aye.” “Aye.” came the response of Jelme and Muwali.
Agreement from Nergei came last of all, in the form of an imperceptible nod.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 13 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
The party packed up efficiently and left the Yorgus in the middle of the night without any adventures. No mishap befell them as they made their planned detour around the Dale of Luugas. Yet, the wariness that had seeped into their minds and permeated into their bones as a result of the affair with the mysterious man and his thought-stone dissipated at the pace of a sluggish torrent. It clung to them like a stubborn coat of grime, falling off their beings one speck at a time.
Astride Bashudai, Bortai was occupied by thoughts of their destination ahead. Borochu had notified them that they would soon arrive at the main Camp of the Neermus, which was the first tribe besides her own which she found bore resemblance to the tribe names of her previous life as a Mongol. And it was the name of a tribe that would become one of the major rivals for Temujin. However, since the Crunalan society on this world was clearly not identical to the Mongolian one she remembered from her first incarnation (the first that she could remember at any rate), she could not be certain that this would be the tribe that they would be stopping at next. Hence, she was more curious than alarmed by the upcoming encounter.
Ahead, she could already see the gers of the Neermu camp, which were resplendent in myriad shades of gold and heavily decorated with ornaments that sparkled in the sun. A fitting abode for their old nemesis Nalan Khan, whose name meant Sun in Mongolian, if this was really his territory.
As at the Yorgus, Bortai and her companions was invited into the chieftain’s ger to converse. There they met the chieftain and his two advisors who happened to have come to pay the chief a social call (otherwise, the Crunalan custom would have the three of them gathered in the Chief’s ger on more formal business). It was so long ago that Bortai could not quite remember whether these two were the same individuals as their counterparts in her Mongolian life. However, she had the impression that they both were practical and good loyal men. It was a pity that they were supporters of Temujin’s foe and came to a bad end as a consequence. Prompted by this thought, Bortai considered these two men at some detail. Both were rather plain- both had average height, the latent strength of Crunalan men in ample and dressed in the same earthen tone. The only difference she noted was that one seemed neater or more careful in behaviour than the other with his clothes bearing less signs of mending. It was small wonder that she could not recall them in a physical way if their Mongolian counterparts had identical looks. Anyway, it tallied with her broad impression of them.
Nalan Khan was exactly as she remembered him: a man of indeterminate age with a golden complexion and a good natured face. Little would anyone guess that underlying the man would be such a strong love of prestige that it permeated across aspects ranging from his taste for grandiosity and glamour, his peacock-like propensity for flaunting to his unmoving stubbornness to never be another’s subordinate regardless of the larger consequences. To be fair to the man, the last point about him would not have been a problem under other circumstances. He was not a bad leader at all. True to his looks, he was good natured as a person, well loved within his own tribe and open-minded enough to work with his advisors to build a prosperous tribe. As a strategist, he was also adept. He had natural cunning and patience in plenty, having an uncanny ability to wait for the best chance to strike at his enemies. It was simply that he had no greater vision to lead to improve the welfare of his people outside of his own gain in status, rendering him somewhat unsuitable for ruling over more than his own tribe. Although he had turned out to be a somewhat main obstacle to Temujin’s unification of the Mongols purely because of the wealth he had gathered for his tribe, Bortai was not particularly worried about him as a foe. Compared to the long and bitter campaign that Temujin had waged against the Tatars, the conflict with the Neermus seemed pale in comparison. Also, as of currently, there was no reason for Nalan Khan to show animosity against them. That would come much later. There was no reason to fret over a none-too-stringent conflict not to come for years.
“Welcome to the tribe of Neermu, the home of Nalan Khan the descendant of Batachikan! Be at ease, my children!” Nalan Khan said in a warm tone. That drew an amused smile from Bortai which she hid deftly. Only Nalan Khan would care to add that last part about the descendant of Batachikan, as if he alone of all of the Crunalan could trace his blood back to one of the off-springs of the Grey Wolf and the White Deer. It was true that Batachikan was the first born and took precedence over his younger siblings. But it was not like the Crunalans, much akin to the Mongolians, believed that a superior bloodline was the ultimate factor in determining a person’s worth. A superior sword is not forged through better iron but better forging, as her Khan-father had taught Bacquder.
As customary, the pedigree keepers were summoned but this time no distant kinship was unearthed by them. Nevertheless, the group talked amiably of many innocuous gossips with their hosts without revealing aught that should not be spoken about. After the encounter at the Yorgus, they had coached Borochu extensively on what ought to be talked about in front of strangers and what oughtn’t. He learnt fast despite his loquacious nature.
In this way, Bortai found herself quickly bored. Then, a passing remark by Nalan Khan caught her attention. “It is never any good to be snagged with the Morghanan, nor even to make guesses of them. Many of those travelling merchants made that mistake. With the announcement that the Morghanan have chosen to come between the Ankalis and the Tatars, those men that were forever hungry for copper disks have thought that the Morghanan would need lots of food. So what do they do? They bring bags and bags of staples, of rice, wheat, corn and all the other types. They think to sell these at high prices. But what do the Morghanan say to the merchants? We need them not, bring them back, that was what they said. Hah, I’ve never seen those merchants’ faces turn so. All smiles and tallying in their faces, that I was used to. But faces white and with moist dropping off their foreheads? The like of which I have never seen before, not on theirs nor any others.”
The news set Bortai spinning in wild circles. What truly is the meaning of this? If the Morghanan truly intended to ally with the Tatars, surely they would not have turned back the travelling merchants so utterly. It was true that many hold the view that the Morghanan are capable of anything but Bortai thought this view ridiculous to say the least. At any rate, Bortai could not believe their reputed abilities included being able to conjure food at such a grand scale within such a short period of time. Even with pre-meditation, it just seemed far-fetched to Bortai. On the other hand, if they had some trickery planned for the Tatars… no, why would they, or rather why have they chosen not to keep to themselves as they have always done? Rather than soothed, Bortai was troubled by this news with a seemingly positive turn for them, more troubled than she would care to admit to herself.
“What do you think of the man?” Temujin made a cautious opening that added to the weight on Bortai’s heart. He spoke in a whisper but it was loud enough for all to hear since he had gotten them to sit so close together in a ring that all their knees were ploughing into each other. “I think Uncle Yesu was right in his warning. I did not like the man.” Borochu replied with a solemn expression seldom seen on his face. Nergei merely nodded.
“What are you three talking about?” Bortai was genuinely puzzled.
“Khan-father had warned us about the Neermu, especially about their chieftain. The two were not on friendly terms. That was why we were cautious at the Chieft’s Ger.” Temujin informed his betrothed.
Bortai was dumbfounded. She had thought their behaviour was merely the aftermath of their adventure with the thought-stone. Instead, it was upon Yesegei Khan’s prior warning that they had acted so. Bortai chided herself for invariably letting down her guard on encountering personnel that she had known in her previous life, acting solely upon the knowledge she had back then. She had never known that their fraction with Nalan Khan had its roots in other than the inevitable conflict that arise whenever an obstacle arises for Temujin's vision of unification for the Mongols. But then Yesegei Khan in that alternate life of hers would have died by now. That raised her caution to a higher level than before. Who knows what series of changes have arisen in this world just because of that single difference of Yesegei Khan still being alive? It would not do for her to make choices and act purely on what she knew to be true of her other life. Cold dread touched her heart when she thought about what disastrous mistakes she could have committed if she had not come awake with the realisation that she had made just now.
“Did Yesegei Khan specify how they have fallen foul of each other?” Bortai enquired. It did not pertain to their main concern but Bortai felt that it would be prudent for her to gather as much information as she could on any possible discrepancies between the worlds that she had lived in and the one she is in now. It was mostly intuition but she had seldom been tricked by it, unless she chose to trick herself.
Temujin shook his head. Jelme shrugged, “It was a minor tussle really. I cannot remember the details now but I think it was a chance remark by Yesegei. He was brutally honest in those days of his youth, still is quite so if you ask me. And you’ve all seen for yourselves the ego of that man.”
Bortai had an odd feeling that Jelme was holding something back. The image Jelme painted of Nalan Khan departed from the view she had formed of him. She did not think it in character for Nalan Khan to hold a grudge for something as innocuous as a chance remark, however brutally honest it was unless it struck at a place deep within him. Acting upon an impulse, she raised the possibility, “May it be that the remark struck at where it was still tender and raw within him?”
Jelme looked surreptitiously towards Temujin. Besides Muwali, all were puzzled by the implied linkage between Temujin and what Jelme was saying about the two Khans of their respective tribes. That only made them more eager to hear the true account about the dispute between the two men. Jelme coughed in embarrassment while Muwali laughed lightly. “There are some things that we find embarrassing to recount to the young,” Muwali offered by way of explanation, “especially if it involves the folly of one’s own youth.” He glanced over to Jelme to emphasise to whom the latter part of his sentence was referring to.
Jelme glared at him but then shrugged, “You can tell the story since you were not involved in this… what you dub as youthful folly.”
“So I shall. Well, there is not much complication to it. A spurned lover and the brother of the woman who spurned him, that is basically how he stands in relation to our own Yesegei Khan.”
“You mean Aunt Odega?” Temujin vaguely remembered that he had an aunt who married into the Jatalin which was a tribe far northern of them but he had never got to know her, her being married off before he was even born.
“No, your other aunt. She was always a queer one and she was as spirited as they come. She had many admirers,” Muwali took a pause to pay Jelme brief scrutiny, “and he was certainly one of the most ardent ones. Who knows why she decided on her choice then but somehow he was convinced that it was because of a chance remark that Yesegei had made about him that belittled him in her eyes. I don’t think Yesegei could even remember the incident now but he had never trusted that other man. I think that was the main reason why Temujin was warned about him.”
Bortai nodded. That was more characteristic of Nalan Khan. It was not the rejection itself that he begrudged but what he thought of as the loss of standing in the eyes of his love that Yesegei’s remark had caused. Still, Bortai did not think he would carry the grudge across generations. However, it did pay to be wary around one as shrewd as Nalan Khan.
Bortai was pleased when her thought was perfectly echoed in Temujin’s words, “No harm in staying cautious.”
To this, all nodded.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 14 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
The day had dawned clear and bright. Early in the morning, Bashudai had sent a mental image of a stream lying still as an azure cloth with stars of white sparkling out of it. The equine brethren of the other party members had made the same requests. Consequently, the party was basking in the sun near a stream that was recreated perfectly by Bashudai. Occasionally, the tip of a swishing tail could be seen above the surface, gleaming resplendently of hues of ruby and obsidian in the sun.
Plop. A pebble had been thrown into the stream and a ripple tarried before coming into being as if loath to disturb a perfect scene. Plop plop plop plumb. A hailstorm of stones were diving into the water and the clamour they made startled the school of fishes previously weaving in and out of the currents just beneath the clear surface of the stream. Now these fishes dispersed in all directions, frantically twisting their tails to get away with all speed. Bortai turned her head and craned her neck to look upwards at the perpetrators of this disturbance- a sizeable group of boys slighter younger than herself and Temujin. The leader of the group was an odd-looking youth, by Crunalan standards at any rate. It was mainly due to the fact that he was gangling, a very rare physical trait among Crunalan males who tended to have bodies that both appeared and were well-formed. He was a clear exception. However, he was not bad-looking overall, having inherited his father’s sunny disposition. Bortai recognised him straight away. It was Songkun, Nalan Khan’s only son. It had been so long that she could no longer remember his exact features but Bortai found that she took an immediate dislike to his thread-thin lips. Not because she believed in the old Chinese adage that those thin-lipped do not treasure old favours and relationships but because her intuition told her that it was an apt reflection of his acerb nature.
By this time, the party had all stood up facing the group of newcomers, with Temujin and Bortai in the lead. At this distance, Bortai could see the gleam that had come onto Songkun’s eyes after he could see her clearly and she found that her dislike of him deepened. Then he stopped about ten paces away from her and stood sizing her up, as if she was not a person but some kind of commodity that could be traded. That made Bortai practically livid. How dare the little brat , she thought in gritted teeth. Then Temujin deftly stepped in front of her, blocking off Songkun’s invasive gaze. Looking at Temujin’s back, a memory from long ago awakened in her and the two images from her two separate lives merged and became one. Bortai was cast back in remembrance to the time in their previous reincarnation when she was holding onto and sleeping behind him after he had rescued her and his other mother from the Merkrits as they were riding back towards home. She relived again of how relief and a sense of security (which she had never knew was so important to her) had flooded her then.
While Bortai was lost to reminiscing, Temujin and Songkun locked gazes on each other. The right corner of Songkun’s mouth twitched upwards in a half smile but it was not a particularly pleasant sight on him, given his narrow lips. Furthermore, the smile did not travel up to his eyes. On the whole, his half-smile was faintly menacing.
“You would do better to keep her hidden in your ger if you do not want other men’s gazes on her. She is certainly worth what ten stallions carry on their backs of the finest quality fur.” A smooth voice stated casually but Temujin had no time to appreciate how pleasant the voice was. He bristled at the implied insult to Bortai and the remaining members of their party tensed in preparation to follow the lead of Temujin.
Unpleasant laughter jolted Bortai back to the present. Songkun should count his blessings that Bortai did not herself hear the words he had just spoken. When Bortai came to, she realised that it must have been some time when she was lost in her own recollections. She was a little worried of the fact that they had now been hemmed in from all sides by Songkun and his lackeys. They were solely outnumbered. Moreover, it was simply bad form to quarrel with the members of the tribe that one was currently guesting at, even notwithstanding the caution that they had decided to adopt around foreign tribes that they visited ever since the warning they received at the Yorgus.
The sky had become entirely motionless, as if it was holding its breath for whatever uproar that would soon befall. A palpable tension hung in the air, like a bowstring already drawn taut. No one dared to make a sharp intake or out-take of breath for fear that it would somehow ignite the invisible sparks of flame hovering above and around them. Yet, all gathered were gripped hard by an unseen force, muscles rigid and knuckles white.
“So that’s where you all are.” A deep, rich and cultured voice intruded into the scene. The voice of Nalan Khan. He had brought with him a sizeable group as well.
“Khan-father…” Songkun was headed off by Nalan Khan’s warm introduction of Temujin and the rest of their party members before he had the opportunity to utter another word.
Bortai marvelled at how it came so naturally to some to be a pacifying influence wherever they went. In a sense, Bortai was reminded of her own father whilst observing how Nalan Khan was able to turn the atmosphere completely around in so short a span of time. It did not perturb her that she would find a strong semblance between one of her potential enemies and one of the rare few who are precious to her, as she might have felt in the modern era. She felt more of the ingrained trappings of that life crumbling and falling away from her as days flew by in her current incarnation.
“Oh, I had almost forgotten. I came to invite you all to the feast that we would be holding tonight, in honour of our respected guests as well as the Winter Equinox. It would be a great pleasure to partake of meat and koumiss along with our brothers and sisters of the Ankali. I am sure that you would humour us?” Nalan Khan seemed more polite than was his norm but probably that was because he wanted to further diffuse the unpleasantness with Songkun. At any rate, it would be rude for the party to decline the invitation so Temujin graciously accepted it on behalf of them all. With a contended smile, Nalan Khan led the now large procession of Neermus back towards the direction of the main camp.
After a period of silence- long enough for the Neermus to be well outside earshot, Borochu spoke in a whisper, “Did anyone else have the feeling that that little brat look like someone we know?” He had a distant look in his eyes, as if he was still concentrating so that he could pull out from his mind who exactly that someone was.
Bortai was about to enlighten him but Nergei got there before her. “His son,” he simply said whilst nodding off towards the direction that Nalan Khan had just walked off in.
The other party members exchanged glances with each other, troubled by such a revelation.
Temujin, Bortai and the rest of their party were fully gathered outside their gers at sunset. It had been a day of heavy fog all day and just now, there appeared to be a hazy fire raging across the full expanse of the sky. It seemed to bespeak of discord to come. The lump in their stomachs had all of a sudden gained in weight. Still not intolerable once one got used to its heaviness but certainty become a weightier burden than before.
The party walked silently up to where the preparation for tonight’s feast was already underway. Multiple cauldrons, each big enough to cook mutton stew for twenty at least, were already laid out in position above stacks of firewood. Fresh bounty from the hunt today- two gazelles and one yak, were just being carried across by sturdy men to where they could be slain afresh and their meat prepared the Crunalan way. It was also the exact same way that the Mongols prepared meats. Bortai suddenly felt eager for the meal ahead. She had never tasted meat as succulent and original in taste in her modern days despite the great variety of cuisines available along with the astounding developments in spices used and the fusion of different styles. Those were pretty much lost on her, it was only after she came back here that she realised what she loved best was the traditional Mongolian – or she should say Crunalan now, cuisine. The meat dishes, at any rate. Bortai reflected ruefully that the vegetable dishes were altogether a different thing. No matter how hard she tried, she could remove much of the unpleasantness taste contained within the raw vegetables and it was time like this that she started to miss somewhat her modern life where she could gain easy access to fine salt rather than the coarse salt lumps that were quite bitter in taste. She could perfectly empathise with Khan-father on being such a meat lover even though she herself always played accomplice to Chechi in making sure that he would consume a fair share of vegetables whenever the whole of their family gather for a meal together. She smiled fondly whilst recalling how childish her Khan-father behaved at such occasions.
Even though it was merely Winter Solstice, darkness had already fallen and so bonfires had been lit all around the rectangle of open ground that they would all be sitting down within. In fact, some have already settled down at spots that were to their liking while others walking towards their seats intermingled with designated helpers still milling around on this errand or that in preparation for the official start of the feast. A Mongolian feast would be just like this , Bortai could not help thinking as she gazed upon the bustling activities around them.
Bortai was about to steer the party towards a place where they could remain obscure amongst the crowd but Temujin grasped at her hand to pull them off towards another direction. When Bortai looked at him questioningly, he turned his head towards the right. This brought her gaze to a place still a fair distance in front of them where she could see Nalan Khan beckoning them to come sit next to him. Seats of honour truly.
“My fellow tribe members, it is a pleasure to gather together with you to celebrate the Winter Solstice. But of equal pleasure to us is that our brothers and sister of the Ankali will be joining us tonight in the feast. Let us rejoice!”
With that, a loud cheer erupted. As the official representative of them all, Temujin stood up and paid the return respects by first gazing all around at the gathered Neermus and then, with a self-confident smile, nodding his head firmly once.
The night quickly moved on in a cheery sequence. Both the food and the koumiss tasted good in the uplifting atmosphere. The Neermus had an especially skilful player of the Morin Khuur, or horse-headed fiddle, who was capably accompanied by a few other instruments traditional to both the Crunalans and Mongolians. The party had much fun in either joining in the ranks of the instrument players or the Biyelgee dance what occurred simultaneously at the pace of the music. The particular variety of Biyelgee practised by the Neermus required one to squat while leaning slightly backwards, which was slightly challenging to the uninitiated. However, Bortai, Borochu and Jelme were soon thoroughly lost in the rhythm and the music.
“And now, we have come to the highlight of tonight- the wrestling matches. May you all find your opponents worthy!” Nalan Khan announced to boisterous cheers at the height of the feast. Bortai suddenly had the feeling that the highlight for them tonight had also just about to start.
Sure enough, a group of youths had come up to Temujin, of which one or two Bortai distinctly remembered as trailing after Songkun from their encounter earlier in the day. Bortai’s brows furrowed. Despite her premonition, this was not what she had expected. Neither would anyone else mindful of protocol. Wrestling was one of the three manly skills in their society and while an annual competition was held where all tribes were invited, it was seldom that guests were invited to participate in wrestling matches. This was for none other than the practical reason that a bruised ego associated with losing a match might serve as a hidden flint to conflict and feud between two tribes. Although not banned outright, inviting a guest into a wrestling match was certainly an act frowned upon by the Elders. While the Crunalans do encourage competition and combat between tribes as a means to keep the Blood forever fresh, petty feuds and anything that could be an instigator for them has no place in their society. However, Bortai could well see why Songkun had asked his followers to undertake such a sensitive endeavour. After all, he was in the tender teenage where one was prone to not think much beyond personal gratification. How could he resist the opportunity to have Temujin humiliated in front of his own woman? It would be an additional boon if Temujin’s failure would alienate him among the other males of his own party. Then Bortai’s knitted brows loosened of their accords. From the expressions of these youths who were obviously not beyond goading Temujin into acceptance if need be, Bortai knew they had misjudged Temujin based on his leanness. Bortai smiled amusedly at the thought of the surprise that they would get. It was true that Temujin was a competent fighter, he was leaning towards being all-rounded and as such did no outstanding expertise in one area. However, they had not counted on the fact Bortai had taught him quite a few tricks, which she had learnt from her aunt Koka who is a very skilled wrestler indeed.
The participants sorted themselves into three groups so that three wrestling matches could occur at the same time. Like the Mongolians, Crunalan wrestlers did not heed things such as different age or weight between contestants so that the sorting would normally be more or less random. However, this was clearly not the case this time. Temujin became part of the second group along with most of the lackeys of Songkun and a few other youths while Borochu and Nergei ended up in the third group with the remaining. They drew straws to determine their order of competing and ordered themselves accordingly from left to right in the middle of the square, where the cauldrons had already been cleared away. As luck would have it, Temujin was somewhere close to the middle of the queue. With the rule being that the winner of matches would keep on competing until he lost, this meant that he was bound to come up against Songkun’s lackeys sooner or later.
Bortai looked with interest at the opening dance that each contestant participated in before the actual matches. She had already seen the style adopted by her own tribe and Temujin’s, which was the kharailtaa- modelled on the bounding of deer and the magshikh (mimicking the prancing of wolves for the Ankali and further having two other variations being the lions and tigers)respectively, exactly as they were in her Mongolian days. She idly wondered which one the Neermus used since she had never seen it first hand back then.
After she had seen the first movement, however, passing interest became genuine fascination. It was a variation of the devee which was based upon imitation of the take-off posture of falcons or phoenixes. Distinct from either the kharailtaa that was just energetic and merry or the magshikh that mainly conveyed of power, the devee was a highly elegant dance. And yet, the devees she had seen before appeared a crude impersonation of the style she was seeing now. In the Mongolian devee, there was really little difference between the two different versions until the very last posture when the ‘phoenix’ would shake out its magnificent tail. Although Bortai had not yet seen the other version of Crunalan devee, she knew that this would be not so. It was based on subtle impressions but she could tell from the start that this particular version of the devee was definitely modelled on the phoenix, that legendary species of birds appearing in the lore of many Oriental cultures. The majestic grace of this dance would befit no other avian species.
Then, the matches started. Although Bortai was fair at the act of wrestling herself, she did not really pay much attention to the short bouts that went past (the matches themselves were never timed but to make sure that the celebration does not run too long into the night, the zasuuls- on-field guides and coaches, would intervene more heavily in slow matches at the start). She did find Crunalan (or Mongolian) wrestling of somewhat more interest than modern day wrestling but then either was more of a pursuit that appealed to males. It was not until Temujin had come on that she got drawn back into the present. Because of her inattention, she had no idea of his first opponent’s skills. It wasn’t one of Songkun’s followers, that much she was sure of. He was already a full grown adult, at least mid-twenties from his looks, of medium height and compactly built. He was slightly winded by which Bortai presumed that he had made a few consecutive wins already. His eyes shone with eagerness.
Temujin gazed at his opponent calmly. After observing him for three matches, Temujin felt that he had a fair measure of the man in front of him who was starting to get drunk with his own successes. It was written not just within his eyes but throughout his posture. Yet, there was not harm in starting slowly and cautiously. Temujin knew that by now the zasuuls would be interfering less to hurry the matches along so that the contestants had more time to get the feel of his opponent.
When the next opponent came on, Bortai’s instincts told her that it would be a hard match for Temujin. He had a body shape much like Temujin’s- not physically powerful but with a latent strength. However, Bortai could also detect a visible difference between them in terms of the depth of that strength. Temujin’s was barely a small well while his was a hale river well fed from the source. He was of course many years Temujin’s senior but had a face on which age does not tell. He gave Temujin a friendly smile, and yet it was also a highly confident smile, like a master would pay to a novice.
After toppling his opponent, Temujin himself sat panting on the ground. Yet, he had a contended smile on his face as he listened to the cheers and applause that the audience had dedicated to him.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 2 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
Otgonbayar carefully moved the tent flap aside, making sure that the level of noise created by his action was just right to alert his sister-in-bonding to his presence but not startle. Once he entered into her domain, he saw an exact replica of his knitted brows in hers.
“Koka, you heard of Borka’s accident?” he ventured a guess.
“No, I was thinking of the Gathering.”
“The Gathering?” Otgonbayar felt a deepening in the crevasse on his forehead. “What tidings?”
“The usual gossip.” Koketani made a long pause, then began hesitantly. “But… there’s a change coming, a change with a faint tinge of malice….” With that, her eyes glazed over and her mind trailed off to the moment when she had just arrived at the Gathering of Sisters.
It was a day of clear sky and a playful breeze that was perfect for riding, the exhilaration experienced in the ride cleansing the mind of all worries while one’s tender flesh is spared from the sharp stings that accompany a heavier draught. Qasqhai stopped of his own accord and Koketani dismounted in one fluid motion, walking swiftly towards Altansaran, her fellow Sister of the Barghun. Just then, Qasqhai snorted and stamped his hooves hard, nostrils flaring. Koketani looked towards him annoyingly and saw that the commotion was caused by the approach of her Sister of the Jarchigud or rather the Jarchigan Dream Steed- the Jarchigud’s equine guardian whose name slipped her. She was about to reproach Qasqhai for his impertinence when she felt it as her stray mind brushed against that of the Jarchigan Dream Steed. A touch of… something inexplicably slimy that coated the mind of an otherwise noble creature. And then it dissipated like tendrils of smoke that never existed. Qasqhai quieted down but Koketani remained troubled. Out of an unknown impetus, she stretched out filaments of her mind towards all the equine minds present. She let out the breath that she had been holding unconsciously when she found nothing untoward. Wait… what was that she just felt? A flash of white hot indignation, of defiance? She chased after the particular thread from which the feeling came and arrived at a mind that appeared to be encased in murky crystal. When she ventured closer to get a better look, she saw a ferocious war between two colours- a ball of radiant white tinged with red against a glassy mist of black that shimmered in and out of existence… and then she was slammed back into her own body.
When Koketani came to again, she saw Otgonbayar looking at her keenly. She looked away briefly. Then, she briskly recounted all the seemingly innocuous incidents passed around as idle gossip by the other Sisters. Such as the goading of a sibling that led a boy to attempt his First Hunt before his due that was passed off as pure youthful mischief. Such as groups of men forming coalitions of unknown purposes within tribes. Such as the unconscious flaunting of wealth in the form of the glossy beads woven into her braid and a thing embroidered with outlandish frivolous patterns that she wore at her hips that looked ridiculous with the rest of her outfit– all that could only have come from the few travelling merchants that sold useless knick-knacks good only for gawping to tribes of the Crunalan in exchange for an outrageous amount of fine fur and sturdy work of timber - by a Sister whose tribe scant months ago was on the verge of being merged into a neighbouring tribe and becoming no more. Such as the inexplicable squabbling and prancing around of particular herds that only occurred when they were in heat.
Otgonbayar’s gaze met unerringly with Koketani’s. “Do you think this was what the prophecy meant?” Otgonbayar’s voice came out in a wisp.
Koketani shrugged but replied in the same fashion in despite of herself. “Strife like never known before? Maybe, maybe not. How could one tell when we Crunalans pride ourselves on being descended from wolves?” she shook her head.
Both of them fell silent for a moment. “Do you think Borka’s accident was” Otgonbayar was cut short by Koketani who waved her hands impatiently.
“Let’s not dig into the elusive again. What actually happened with Borka?”
“I take it you have visited her already” he did not frame it as a question but rather arched one of his eyebrows. He hid the smile that had risen up to his lips when she, his proud Koka who often scoffs him for giving in too easily to the children and thus raising them to be needy, did not deign to answer but glared at him instead.
“Well, Mushker was able to deduce through his sire-colt link with Bortai’s Henarai that the little temul had died from an unnatural cause and it deeply upset him.” This time, it was he who met the arched eyebrows of Koketani. “He, and therefore I, knows no more beyond that.”
“Qasqhai showed me glimpses of what he gathered from the herd link.But if anything could be gathered from them, it would be shards of what occurred and I simply could not make sense of them.” She outlined the images she was shown, what she was able to make out and what still puzzled her. Despite an ensuing discussion of both length and depth, many possible interpretations were raised but none ascertained to be the unerring truth.
After they had thoroughly exhausted both their tongues and minds, the two parted. Otgonbayar made a last glance backwards towards Koka as he exited her tent. He was unsettled to see a deep frown seemingly etched onto her face, as she supported her head on a single palm and stared without seeing at a single point in the air.
It was the fourth day after Aunt Koka had given her a short discourse on the Craft of being a Sister of Magul, or training to become one as it was in her case. The fact that Aunt Koka has seemed truly seemed appalled that she had forgotten it all stayed on her mind. So too did the pure disbelief she subsequently felt told that when apparently, being a Sister revolved around the ability to converse with any and every maguls- the Crunalan term for the four-hooved creatures with a long tail, an athletic body covered with a long mane and a slender neck and visage. In particular, only a Sister could communicate with the Dream Steed, the head of the Herd local to one tribe’s territory. It was also a Sister’s responsibility to teach the craft of such communication to all the males of the tribe after their Rite of Choosing at age seven when they have attained approval to form a bond with their First Magulandas, the equine version of an anda or blood brother bond between two Crunalan males.
As Bortai lay on her bed reflecting, she had the impression of something jarring about what Aunt Koka had been re-teaching her about her Craft during her daily visits these few days. Sometimes, she would attempt to spark Bortai’s memory by teasing her, suddenly stopping half way through an explanation of how to actually practice this skill in the hopes that Bortai would say something in despite of herself. Bortai could tell that Aunt Koka did it out of genuine concern for her. So she had come to accept the presence of this elder woman in her life, even if she still could not figure out how it was possible that she could recognise the majority of her social circle except for one person. She had finally put it down to the peculiarity of her condition. And yet, whenever Aunt Koka tried to draw out her missing memory on the Craft, the odd feeling would come. In particular, she felt that the whole concept was so alien to her, as if it was the first time that she had encountered it. It might simply have been the unfortunate result of her memory loss but compared to how she had still retained an instinctive sense that she truly should be where she was now and that those immediately around her were precisely right- she could easily embark on conversations with no obvious handicaps despite her memory loss because she still had a good sense of the unique nuances underlying what it meant to be a Crunalan on a deep level within herself, her feeling of unfamiliarity with her Craft definitely felt wrong. But how could such a conundrum exist? She truly had no idea and it was not even the first one of such that had been plaguing her mind lately. Bortai felt frustration mounting and had the greatest urge to grind her teeth together. But she knew that there was naught to do except hope that her memories would return of their own accords and enlighten her. She made a few slow breaths in and out to invite calm back.
Just then, Aunt Koka entered into her ger. She gave Bortai a warming smile and enquired about her injury. Bortai replied that she was well and then a thought flashed past her mind. She put it forth to her Aunt Koka as a question, “Aunt Koka, it just came across my mind then, from whence do we Sisters draw our ability to communicate with the Dream Steeds? How did it come about that no one but us can do so?”
“Had I neglected to mention this?” Aunt Koka looked slightly embarrassed, “It must have slipped my mind.” Bortai knew what Aunt Koka had left unsaid was that she no longer expected that any of Bortai’s memory would just return as if they had never departed in the first place. Consequently, she no longer tried to bait Bortai in their conversation to see whether a casual mention of something might lead to the slightest of remembrances on Bortai’s part. It hadn’t, not during the past three days.
“A passage in our Beginning Lore runs thus:
Amidst the days of unchecked invasion of the sands, a steed came forth
into the dream of the Propitious One.
From this, a pact was forged.
A pact exchanging companionship and loyalty,
akin to that pledged between the blood of two men,
in exchange for guidance and wisdom of the Herd.
A pact that shall be honoured until the day
when other pastures are conquered and prosperity to both are to be had .”
It refers to the pact made by our ancestors with the Herds that run wild on the Steppe bowing to no Masters, unlike what those travelling merchants make of maguls- draught animals, what indignities!” Aunt Koka had started to fume but then caught herself. “You probably have forgotten,” she sighed before continuing. “but our people had not always been living our lives as wanderers across the Steppe. Back then, we had yet to learn that the encroachment of the Ulagh Gobi on the Steppe will be ever-present. Through our ignorance, we were effectively accomplice in such invasion that threatens our own livelihood. In our time of need, the Dream Steeds, the heads of the Herds as you already know them to be, stood forth in the dream of the First Sister whose name is lost to us now after all these years, and offered us a chance. A pact was forged. In return for guiding us to green pastures whenever the need arises and sharing equine wisdom with us on other affairs that have an influence on the welfare of our tribes, we will provide companionship, loyalty and respect equal to the gesture of generousity of our equine brothers and sisters. Eventually, we will be leading them to other green pastures in places far from the Steppe and other Herds that are worth of being integrated into their bloodlines in a future generation. We do not know when this glorious day referred to in the passage will come but I wish I will be there to witness it when it comes!” A steady glow of pride, anticipation and hope for the future was in Aunt Koka’s eyes.
The actual passage recited by Aunt Koka and the lore she subsequently retold were both new knowledge for Bortai. However, the term Beginning Lore seemed to evoke a vague sense of familiarity. Yet, at the moment, she found that she was driven more into the character of this First Sister. “Is it also lost how the First Sister was like as a person?” Bortai had a wistful look in her eyes.
Aunt Koka nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
Bortai’s lips curled downwards. “So originally, it was only the First Sister that had the ability? How did it spread?” Bortai frowned, puzzled.
“Yes, at the start, it was the First Sister who was the sole one with this remarkable ability. All the others who took up the Craft after her were able to do so through the talismans that she made herself for each of them so that the Dream Steeds can each choose the most suitable one to which to bond to.” Aunt Koka responded in a dreamy voice, as if she was witnessing those yore days and being held enraptured by what she witnessed.
“But have you not said that the Craft cannot just be wielded by anyone, that it is more of an ability? How then is it that a talisman is the basis of how our Craft originated from?”
“You were forever the impatient one, I was just getting to that.” Aunt Koka gave Bortai an indulgent smile. “These talismans were not mundane items that can be wielded by anyone. Only those of the Deer form that are right for the talismans can make actual use of them. In the hands of others, they might as well be ornamental knick-knacks.” Those of the Deer form… Bortai felt that the term was somewhat but not entirely unfamiliar to her. She could well guess that it referred to those like her, Aunt Koka, Chechi, Ariga and her sisters as opposed to Khan-father and her brothers, as it is the belief of their people that they are descended from a union of the Wolf and the Deer.
“How does one know whether one would be right for one of these talismans?”
“You close your hands around one of these and you just know. We of the Deer form have our own Rite of Choosing and that is the time when testing is done on whether we are fit for being a Sister. We do not speak of such experiences to anyone else but neither do we lie about something as important as this.”
“Is there ever more than one right for a single talisman at one time?”
“There are often more than one that fits a talisman at one time. All who find acceptance with the talisman is accepted into the Sisterhood but not all are officially recognised outside of it. You, as the chosen Sister of your generation, carry with you a talisman- though not one of the original ones as you are still under training, signifying your position. Your sister Chagur, though she is strong enough at the Craft to bond with one of the Rogue Maguls, does not enjoy the privileges of our position. It is the Dream Steed who ultimately determines who he will be bonding to as kin. This girl that he chooses is the only one who he will be trusting with his thoughts, intuition and wisdom for the duration of his life. The rest who are congruent with a talisman assist the chosen Sister of their generation and devote their time to studying other aspects that have important impacts on the Craft such as how the Herd will behave differently due to weather fluctuations, changes in the soil and other manifestations of Tengri’s will.”
“What are these privileges that we enjoy?”
“Well, no one will dare raise a hand against one of us. Also, we will never be abducted by the Bride Raiders, those silly youths thinking having brawns is all that is needed to win over a woman. Not that they will do anyone any harm but it’s just tedious to be brought as unwilling guest into a foreign tribe and have to go through the formality of being courted.”
“Has there ever been a man who was right for a talisman?” Bortai asked on impulse, saying the term man somewhat hesitatingly because she was not sure whether the correct way to refer to them was those of the Wolf form.
Aunt Koka shrugged. “They have never been tested. But I would say no, since they all had to be taught after their Rite of Choosing.”
Just then the tent flaps had been hurriedly brushed aside to admit a man looking to be about the age of Bortai’s Khan-father. His face was quite regular shaped, in that his chin was like one of the edges of a piece of timber cut to be part of a cabinet. Overall, he looked to be quite a serious and upright person. Bortai also felt that she could go so far as to hazard that he could possibly look severe on occasions. He was clearly winded and from the splotches of dried blood on the sleeves of his kaftan, Bortai deduced that he was just back from a hunt. This was confirmed by his own words.
“Borka, I just came back from the hunt and I heard about your accident. What happened? How are you feeling now?” he wheezed out.
“You are? Sorry, I lost all my memories and they have not come back.” This is the second time that Bortai said similar words and she idly wondered whether this man is somehow related to Aunt Koka.
“I’m your Uncle Huyag.” Unlike the others close to her, he did not seem overtly upset by this revelation but merely frowned. Bortai also took interest in the fact that he was her maternal uncle and thus, elder brother to Aunt Koka. And it came to her that she had previously neglected to note that Aunt Koka had never talked about her own family- her birth family since she had remained single, somewhat unusual for her age. Was this related to how she had forgotten all of the relatives from her mother’s side, as it seems? She had never known her mother but surely a pattern of non-recognition of all of her mother’s surviving relations does not follow on from this fact. It made her wonder again whether her ‘forgetting’ her aunt so thoroughly was merely coincidence or…
Bortai looked across to Aunt Koka and saw that she had gone quite stiff and was unconsciously wringing her hands. Uncle Huyag’s gaze must have travelled with her own. It was then that she saw, for the first time since he had entered, his composure temporarily taking leave from him. He appeared positively taken aback at the sight of Aunt Koka, then his entire face froze and a palpable chill emanated off him. Oddly, Bortai found that this reminded her of Aunt Koka (the two siblings definitely shared nothing in common in terms of outlook) although she had never personally witnessed her losing her temper, yet. However, she imagined this would be what her Aunt Koka was like when she did so.
Aunt Koka had visibly shrank from Uncle Huyag’s cold gaze. “Elder brother.” she mumbled out a greeting with a lowered head.
The air in the ger only turned more frigid. “I will come by later. Rest well.” Uncle Huyag told Bortai and then promptly stomped out.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 3 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
“Khan-father, Uncle Huyag came to visit me yesterday. He and Aunt Koka… they did not seem to get along?” Bortai tried to ask casually.
From the set of his shoulders, Bortai could already deduce that this was one of the topics that her Khan-father felt uncomfortable with. He sighed, “It’s true.”
If Bortai could sit up, she would be leaning forwards at this point. Her Khan-father must have read her thoughts. “I cannot give you the details. It is bad to revive talk of such unpleasantness in the past, like rubbing a still raw wound. But yes, your uncle and aunt had a fall out, when they were barely youths.”
“I assume Aunt Koka was at fault?”
“I agree that Koka owed Huyag a debt that could never be repaid. We were all relieved that Huyag at least decided not to call upon it. As for being at fault, I do not think one could attribute blame so cleanly. After all, it was merely her nature coming forth. One can hardly fault a hawk for slaughtering a hare because it is his nature.”
“Her nature being?”
“Full of pride, like you, my erdene.” Khan-father gave her one of his indulgent smiles. Bortai instinctively knew that the term erdene meant something valuable and that one cherished even though this was the first time she had heard it since waking up.
“And the scar never healed in the long period that went past? Has anyone ever tried to… well, try to make them re-bond?”
“I…” he picked up his words briskly but a tinge of something had crept into his voice. Something too complex- it contained tiredness, sadness, regrets and a myriad of other emotions, for Bortai to completely analysis in so short a time. “I tried but I failed them.” Like I failed your mother. Otgonbayar thought but did not say to his eldest daughter, who brought status to his household. To him, she was also the greatest of all the erdene that was his children though he loved all of them.
“How about others that tried? Have they all failed as well?” Bortai persisted.
“Borka, you do not yet understand that there are some things that are better left as they are until time smooth the edges out of them and wear them thin. There are some grudges that can never find resolution. These would ultimately be better left alone from outside influence. Words from one who is away from the centre of it might well be impartial and reasonable. Yet, precisely because they are impartial and reasonable, they do not soothe the hearts of those trapped within of grief, anger, despair, all that will haunt you until the end of your days.”
Tears came unbidden into Bortai’s eyes but she knew not why. What she did know was that she felt a strong resonance in her heart to her Khan-father’s words, especially regarding the ineffectualness of impartial advice. There are some struggles that one has to bear alone and a voice of reason is often poor defence against the turmoil of feelings arising from within. Bortai became aware of a phantom-like mass in the pit of her stomach. Droplets of water fell down from her eye sockets and she cleared them away with the back of her left hand.
“I understand, Khan-father.” She sounded different even to herself, like someone with mild difficulty in breathing.
Even though Bortai could, for some inexplicable reason, empathise with Khan-father’s logic, she still felt knowledge of the dispute between her uncle and aunt lying heavy on her mind. She said as much to her friends Nala and Tolun one afternoon when they came to her ger. She was still confined to the bed and they would come to keep her company every few days. Despite initially finding Nala’s loquaciousness to be somewhat repellent, she had quickly grown fond of their company. In fact, she found that the three of them formed quite interesting contrasts amongst themselves. She herself was proud- not as apparent as her Aunt Koka who seemed inborn with something that elevated herself beyond others but she certainly felt the embers of it in her spirit, as well as strong-willed. She found that she did not particularly crave company but she had come to cherish the times with her family and friends. In contrast, Nala was forever eager to be the centre of attention and it seemed to Bortai that she almost had a fear of being alone. And then Tolun, sweet smiling Tolun, she seemed content to listen most of the times.
“Taika, are you going to meddle in the affairs of your uncle and the Sister again?” Nala immediately responded.
“Again? Have I done much before the accident?”
Nala rolled her eyes. “None of the elders want to dabble in it. But you have surely kept your hands busy. You would arrange to have your uncle visit while the Sister is in your ger or bring the Sister along to visit Elder Gugun whenever you know your uncle is also there. You think neither of them saw through your ploys? They humour you but naught comes from your efforts.”
Bortai knew that the Elder Gugun that Nala referred to was her own maternal grandfather, one of the respected few whose elderly age made him no longer suited to participating in hunts and warfare and so had turned to safeguarding the tribe with his wisdom and memories. Bortai has not yet seen her own grandfather as he seldom walked about the tribe, instead being imposed on by the ailments that came with age to wait in his ger for visitors. It did sway her a little that as the father of the two siblings whose relations had come to such an impasse, her grandfather had chosen to not involve himself. His body might be frail but Bortai knew that his mind would still be sharp, else he would not have been entrusted with the position of Elder at all.
Despite this, she still argued for her original tactics. “But should one give up merely because one’s efforts prove futile rather than continue striving for success? How would one ever succeed then? I understand forgiveness is no one else’s right to give except Uncle Huyag’s and I would not be binding him into giving it. But I could at the very least steer him towards seeing that it’s possible and in his power to forgive, thereby freeing both of them from the hold of the past. Is not disharmony within a family bad fortune for all?”
“Hush, Borka. Do not speak openly of such. A malignant spirit might seize upon it to do real harm.” Tolun spoke in all seriousness, which conflicted with Bortai’s conception of her as being ever comfortably practical. But she had always known on an instinctive level that her people were superstitious.
“Fine, but I still ask this of you: while inaction has its place, wherever has it led to good on its own?”
“Borka, I do not argue with your logic, nor with your rightful concern for the Sister. But I think you should not dwell over long on it. Rather, is it not more pressing for you to try to get your memories back?”
Bortai found that words have come up short for her. Yes, that should indeed be her priority.
“I think you should rest now.” With that, Tolun left Bortai to her thoughts, leading Nala away by the hands.
Bortai breathed deeply of the scents of fresh grasses and morning dew. She made a full pivot on her toes and opened her arms out wide, laughing in her slightly husky voice. The grassy plain that stretched out beyond the furthest horizons echoed with the deep trill of her merriment. Bortai felt a profound sense of liberation as if she had finally come back to where she was meant to be after eons.
“Borka, what are you doing? We are not here for idling.” Bortai heard her aunt Koka’s admonishment and swiftly turned around with an unctuous smile on her face. Despite her initial wariness over not immediately recognising her aunt-mentor, she had grown truly fond of this ivybloom of a woman. As for her troubles with Uncle Huyag, she wanted to help as repayment for her affection. However, she had decided to heed the advice from Khan-father and her friends and stay her hands, until she could regain her full self.
“Aunt Koka, you know how I’ve been bed-ridden for the last month, and that’s not even counting the time I spent in the healing sleep.” Bortai pulled a sour face at the word “bed-ridden” and made furtive glances at Aunt Koka to gauge her reaction.
The way Bortai was stealing glances at her did not escape the sharp eyes of Koketani but what shot out of her mouth faster than her thoughts was, “One long song, no more dithering.” With that, she set off to study and collect a sample of that plant with smoky grey blooms and whose leaves are bordered with soft tassle-like filaments that so intrigued her. “And you should be grateful for the fact that you are only bed-ridden for a month after breaking your leg. Do you think that any and every who had done so were so privileged to have been treated by the most renowned healer of all Crunalans and the Sister who had the most extensive knowledge of herbs on the vast Steppe together?” she tossed back over her shoulders to her wayward niece as if speaking of a casual thought.
A whinny came from Qasqhai. An image of a mother hen making a great show of being a female wolf intruded upon Koketani’s mind. Koketani knew that was Qasqhai chiding her for pretending to be gruff when that was not what she really felt at all. She pretended not to take notice. A rapid series of pictures came from Qasqhai again and she knew that they were his way of saying “the human folly of hiding their true feelings.” Koketani felt her heart tremble for the briefest instant. A tiny whoosh of air came out of Qasqhai’s nostrils, his way of sighing. He shared with her fragments from his own memories- of a strong glossy mare being chased by many stallions, of the stallions fighting among themselves to claim her, of one in particular accidentally killed by flaying hooves in the fray. Then, the images dissolved and reformed into wolf pups, born of the same litter, at play. First, they chased each other’s tails, licked each other, and then they fought a little with their claws and milk teeth and then they went back into cordiality again. Koketani knew what he was driving at, it being an old argument between the two. This time, she simply let him know in very firm terms to mind his own equine business. In return, Qasqhai snorted and firmly reminded her that it is his right as part of the pact made long ago to look after the welfare of a Sister to which he is bonded to, her tribe and the Crunalan society at large by association. At that, Koketani chose to break off their mental communication. She signalled to Bortai to let her know that her lesson would commence, now.
Having appeased her appetite for soaking in the moment of glorious elation, Bortai obediently came on the beckoning of her Aunt Koka. They had already gone through the basics of what it meant to be a Sister of Magul but having been confined to her bed, she had no chance to pick up on her actual Craft. Instead, most of the time was spent on revisiting, or rather her being re-taught, some of the periphery aspects of it that her Aunt Koka insisted was foundational to their calling. Today, at last, she was about to reconnect with what she thought was the real crux of it but she was not going to let Aunt Koka know, of course.
A light tap knocked on Bortai’s conscious and she instinctively followed after the trail of hoof prints towards its host, her Aunt Koka’s Qasqhai, the Dream Steed of the Ontaggarit. She was surprised by the touch of an equine mind, its texture being more dense- an earthen dense- than her own. It opened up to her and she entered with courtesy. Or rather, tried to enter with courtesy. For at that moment, she felt locked into place. Immobilised. She panicked and tried to wriggle free. She fell back a pace. Relief flooded her and she tried to move forward again, towards the open path before her. Frozen, again. This time, she calmly took a backwards step on her own accord. When her eyes came to meet with Qasqhai’s, she knew that he was as puzzled as she was, at his unanswered invitation. Bortai quickly stole a glance at Aunt Koka but saw that she was absorbed in her own world. She breathed out a sigh of relief. She motioned Qasghai to silence and sent out a tentative plead for letting her try again. He nodded once and soon she saw the broad path leading into his mind. This time, no mishap befell her and she had her first taste of an interesting conversation with a noble creature. However, the impression of the ‘accident’ of that first time of their mental contact stayed with her long into her dreams that night, and afterwards.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 4 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
“Borka!” “Taika!” Two melodious voices precipitated the entry of their owners, two of the most prized flowers of the Ontaggarit.
“Nala and Tolun,” Bortai greeted her sole two friends with a smile, “what errands have you two come on today?”
Nala crinkled her nose and pouted. “Do we have to come on errands rather than simply for the pleasure of your company?”
Bortai put out her hands with palms facing upwards and then lowered her arms down so that they hung loosely- the Crunalan gesture for conceding defeat. That earned a smile from Nala but in a moment Bortai saw her big eyes starting to rove in that way that bespoke of the planning of some mischief. Bortai started to dodge to the side but it was already too late. Soon a peal of giggles reverberated within the ger. It only ended when Bortai could barely gasp out a plea for forgiveness. Bortai cast a reproachful glance at Tolun. “And you just sat there?” Tolun shrugged as if to say what could I do? Then she proceeded to feign the condition of being overcome with fear by lightly patting her own chest. Bortai rolled her eyes at Tolun but let it go at that.
Suddenly, goosebumps rose up on the back of Bortai’s hand and she turned back to see two depthless wells sucking her in. After shaking off the temporary enthralment induced by the sight, she fended off the shapely hand reaching for her armpits with ease. She smirked when Nala hung her tongue out and tried to take on an innocent look with her eyes. Bortai made a show of setting her features to a stern expression and only grazed Nala with the corner of her eyes. “Haven’t I already told you not to stare at my back in that way again?”
Nala hung her head and mumbled in a voice audible to all within the ger, “But I was just trying to get a closer look at one of the three Flowers of the Ontaggarit, who was about to wed off to the young Wolf of the Ankali”. The smile froze on Bortai’s face when she heard the words “wed off” and she didn’t hear any more. She felt as if her heart was seized by a sliver of cold. Wed off… to whom? How soon? She became dazed with the tornado of thoughts whirring in her head.
She came to when she felt a pair of warm marmoreal hands closing over her own. She lifted her head and saw the unspoken question in Tolun’s eyes. Bortai shook her head lightly to indicate that she need not be concerned. The gesture also seemed to have cleared her head. It was no longer ringing with a mad cluster of notions vying and interposing over each other. Then an idea occurred to her. She tuned into Nala’s gabbling once again, hoping to glean some more information on her impending marriage. Meanwhile, she did not neglect to send Tolun an appreciative smile, to which Tolun returned a composed nod. This entire exchange, of course, was lost on Nala who was so self-absorbed in her own speech that she remained oblivious to all else. It went on like this for a while- Nala pouring a torrent of words while Bortai and Tolun mostly listened and interjected here and there. Bortai was soon rewarded with the answer to one of the questions plaguing her- her marriage will be in three months’ time. She also learnt a few aspects (amidst a jumble of pure chattering and hearsays) of the tribe that she would be marrying into, such as the fact that the chieftain of this tribe was anda or sworn brother to her own Khan-father, that he was respected as a ferocious fighter and that it was a tribe with many strong hunters and warriors.
At one point, the lethargy that Bortai felt at the incessant prattling of Nala must have finally penetrated through her haze of excitement. For her roving-eyes expression had come on again, followed by her whispering conspiratorially, “Have you thought of a suitable Bribe Test yet?”
Bortai gave her a blank look, which met with her exaggerated gasp. “Have you forgotten that even?”
Bortai did not even bother to reply.
Thwarted, the corners of Nala’s mouth turned downwards. But she dutifully proceeded to explain the matter. Apparently, it was a traditional custom that allowed a woman the opportunity to gauge the measure of her would-be husband before the misfortune of an ill-chosen union occurs, as wont to happen as a large number of Crunalan marriages are arranged by parents. It was not that such misfortune could not mended. Far from it, Crunalan women had always been fully entitled to divorce her husband if she found herself in such happenstance and would not carry any smear to her name as a consequence. Nevertheless, an ill match and subsequent divorce might drive an irksome spur between the woman and her birth family. As this was seen as boding ill not only for the immediate and extended family but rather the spirit of the entire tribe and the Crunalans overall, the Elders had long decreed that this custom had to be upheld in all circumstances.
Bortai’s eyes lighted up. She had no inkling of why cold fear would seize her at the thought of marriage but she was determined to take things into her own hands rather than sitting idly by and letting Fate blow her hither and tither.
At Borochu’s urging, Temujin and Nergui had agreed to go on a short trek with their most recently bonded magulandas. However, before the three had even set foot out of Temujin’s ger, Temujin suddenly doubled over. Just as inexplicably, he straightened up again and waved off Nergei, who had dashed to his side like a gust of wind and was about to take his arm into possession. It was an odd feeling that seized Temujin, not of pain but something else as intense. That made him feel like his heart was a tovshuur whose strings were being plucked to play a tune of equal parts longing and melancholy. He was puzzled when he felt it, but also enthralled in a way. He sensed the feeling sinking into his being and becoming one with himself.
When the three youths filed out of the ger one after the other, their hearts became soft as gubei juice when hailed by an enchanting smile on a face made exquisite through large limpid eyes. Temujin saw an immediate change coming over Borochu and Nergei. They acted as if drunk on the bounty of their First Hunts. Borochu kept stealing covert glances at her at every opportunity. As for the ever unassuming Nergei, he had that staring off into far-away look in his eyes that might escape all others except the anda that grew up with him within the same ger. On the other side of them, little Temulen seemed completely ignorant of these undercurrents of amorous attentions. Mentally, Temujin shook his head at the three but remained neutral from their affairs, as custom dictated in such matters.
It was not long that Temulen bade farewell to them and flitted off on some girlish pursuits of her own. The three youths sent out a mental call to their respective magulandas and not long after, three young stallions pranced into view. Temujin and his two friends ascended onto their backs with fluidity. As they did not have any pressing business, each deferred to his magulanda to run at his own desired pace. Being barely out of colt-hood and still excitable, the three fine equines set off at a brisk trot and then not long after, brought their brothers-on-two-legs onto a truly exhilarating journey across the lea. That is, for any worthy Crunalan, others might find it harrowing.
After the three pairs of man-horse andas had fully indulged their appetites for racing, Temujin, Borochu and Nergei paced for a while in companionable silence. Then Borochu, ever the most energetic of the three, led out a loud hoot of laughter that resounded all around them. He drooped his arms across each of his andas’ shoulder and then stopped. He felt an inexplicable tautness in their bodies. He looked at each in term, in puzzlement. “What ails you two?”
Temujin and Nergei exchanged glances. It was Temujin that finally spoke up. “Are you not troubled by what Khan-father just said?”
“Of what in particular?” came the reply after Borochu had thought for a while.
Temujin gave him a suffering look. “Didn’t you think that what Khan-father last said was… well, let’s just say inopportune.” He placed emphasis on the words “last” and “inopportune”.
Borochu looked across to Nergei and was met with a light but firm nod. “A little,” he admitted but then shrugged as if to say what did it matter? Before the other two could comment, he calmly asserted, “The wind blows where it pleases.” To this, Temujin and Nergei finally nodded and fell silent.
It was again Borochu who spoke first, gazing intently ahead at the vast expanse of undulating grasses. “Sulan oenga naisha.” He stated in his deep bass, which had acquired a perceptible edge of steel normally absent. An ember lit up his glossy black pupils. “I would become a renowned warrior known throughout the Steppe!” he announced in a volume that the whole Steppe could hear and the ending notes of his proclamation fanned out and ricocheted all around.
Look always ahead and beyond . Borochu’s assertion of the old Crunalan dogma lightened the fog stifling the hearts of Temujin and Nergei so much that it became but a piece of gauze as thin as cicada wings. Nergei saw an image forming morsel by morsel in his mind’s eyes. First, there was just the outline of one cheek. The chin was slightly angular but not unpleasantly so and it was distinctly feminine. Then, the corner of one lip was revealed and already he could make out a tell-tale upwards twitch. Just as it shimmered into being, Nergei felt his heart fluttering its wings and took off unerringly towards that that tiny image of the lip that he would recognise no matter how miniscule a portion of it was presented. Then the butterfly of his heart flitted to the right and then upwards, inching its way along the pair of luscious lips, lingering over each bit that has been gently grazed by its wing-tips. When the full image of that pair of lips had fully formed, his eyes drank long and hungrily of it. The same ritual was repeated with her slightly pudgy but still charming nose, her laughing eyes and her eyebrows shaped like the supple limbs of a willow tree. Then the image twinkled once, rippled over and turned into that of his erdene (or treasure) with a silent, capable, totally self-assumed and yet unassuming warrior striding at ease besides her. Nergei felt a pang in his heart. The two seemed to be engaged in light conversation. Temulen was smiling and happiness glittered in her eyes like starlight. Then she seized a part of his kaftan to pull him closer to whisper in his ears. He made a half turn to accommodate her and Nergei gasped. The warrior was him, but not quite him. It was an kuai him. Nergei’s eyes misted over with wistfulness. And then the image shifted again. This time, he- still the kuai him, and Temulen were sitting in their ger, playing with a new-born babe. Their son . Nergei felt suffused by warmth and unquestionably euphoric. Then, a strong breeze came onto the Steppe and the image disintegrated into motes that were buffeted amidst the wind.
Ahead and beyond… Temujin frowned. He had never thought about it much. In fact, not at all…. except for the days when he felt restless like there was an invisible itch that he could not scratch. He was hafin, one of the contenders for the position of chieftain of the Ankali succeeding from his Khan-father. But he had never thought that he had to be the one to take up the mantle. Others- Borochu, Nergei and the other hafins, were just as capable as himself to lead the tribe onto prosperity. In his mind anyway, just in different ways. That is not to say that he did not take his status as hafin seriously. Quite the contrary. A large portion of his time was devoted to learning under Khan-father, the Elders and visiting Mother. He had moved out from Mother’s ger now that he was preparing to be wed to the Erdene of the Ontaggarit. He felt his heart beating faster at the thought. Even though he had never seen his would-be bride, she had a reputation of being a true daughter of the Steppe and was training to become a Sister. He had high hopes that she would provide as wise counsels to him as his own Mother to Khan-father and that they would together raise as fine a family. Despite of himself, he smiled. Khan-father, Mother, his younger siblings- Hasar, Hachiun and Temulen, second-Mother Engnai and his second-circle brothers Behter and Belgetui. Each and every was dear to him in their own ways, even emulous Behter who was full of conceit and always argued for a larger share of the hunting catches than his due. The bond of the Blood called for him to guard them well and honour them with joy. In fact, that was what he had been pursuing. But beyond that, he was at a loss. Once in a while, he could feel the distant call of something arising from a yawning pit within himself. That would bring about a bout of fretting, listless pacing about. Yet, he was truly hard pressed to define what was that call truly. Just when his brows were coming to interlock with each other, a hearty breath from Yosani jolted him out of his reverie.
Temujin looked up and saw that the sky was already a grimy off-yellow colour characteristic of approaching sunset in the Wolf-teeth Moons. He looked across at his two andas and saw that Borochu was still in a state of exuberance while Nergei had a wistful look in his eyes that he had not yet had time to hide. He sighed. “Let’s go back.”
The three of them rode back in silence, each rather self-absorbed in thoughts of times ahead.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 5 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
Bortai opened her eyes to a clear starlit night. She gingerly and somewhat unwillingly slipped out from underneath her blanket stuffed full of fresh feathergrass (therefore plump and comfortable). Once she got up, however, she swiftly put on her kaftan and boots. She lifted a hemp pack that she had already stuffed full of necessities for travels onto her shoulders and managed, with the practiced ease of the past month, to exit her ger with silence.
Bortai looked to her right, towards the ger of her Khan-father. She felt her gaze lingering. She did not know why but she thirsted for his company and affection, for the sense of warmth and security that she felt around him. It was a thirst that she had felt since first lying eyes on him when she had revived from her Healing Sleep. It was also a thirst born of having been denied for a long time, a time beyond reckoning. That puzzled her but then she had gotten use to pushing it aside for the moment, along with all the other things she felt unsettled about. For another time, she promised herself. She turned slightly to take in the ger directly behind Khan-father’s. That of Aunt Koka. Even though she could still not feel the same instinctive recognition of her through Blood as the rest of her immediate family, the two of them had bonded. She had great respect for Aunt Koka’s sharp mind even though her tongue was likely to be even sharper. Nevertheless, it was under her tutelage that she had already accumulated (or re-accumulated) a wealth of knowledge within such a short span of time. Not just on her Craft but also various bits of herbal and other lore that she might not find as fascinating as Aunt Koka herself but certainly of great practical value. Finally, she looked across the two gers situated to the west side of Khan-father’s, in which dwelt Chechi, Ariga and all of her siblings. She knew that she would miss each of them greatly on the journey, as well as Nala and Tolun. Already she was feeling a sense of nostalgia at the thought of leaving, when she had not even set foot outside the Ontaggarit main camp yet.
And yet… and yet she could not help feeling panicked at the prospect of marriage. She did not know what was so terrifying about marriage but fear came to her like a reflex. If it was due to a past memory that was obscure but still lurked within her intuition, then it must be that no one else but herself knew about it. Else everyone in the tribe was working in unison to smooth over the geal. No, then she would have surely picked up some nuance, from nattering Nala at least.
Well, it was not like she had years of time to do scouting work around one morsel of her forgotten past. It was now less than a month before the official wedding and preparations were already fully under way. Already, Khan-father and Chechi were discussing who to send with her as escorts of her bridal entourage while Ariga was throwing herself with abandon into overseeing the other details. If not for the need of re-bonding with her magulaje and scouting out the surrounding areas, she would not have tolerated this long within a household nearly gone crazy with the excitement of either those bustling in and out of her ger on errands concerning her imminent wedding or the children congregating around those so engaged and goggling at various trinkets. It took all of Bortai’s composure to grind her teeth and take her own counsel rather than shout at everyone to take all the knick knacks and get out her ger and her sight, now, right from that moment.
Bortai let out the breath that she did not realise she had been holding. She ignored the feeling that she had left something important behind and the temptation to go back into her ger to check. She knew she had carefully packed everything she would need. This was surely just some excuse that her heart had concocted to trick her into staying. She set the first step forwards, on a journey that would turn out much longer (and with many surprises) than she had first expected. She looked back once with longing, to take in the full view of the gers of her most beloved. Then, determinedly she walked on ahead.
Bortai was strolling besides Bashudai along a tributary of the Mother River. They were treading softly on lush meadow grass that only reached up to the top of Bortai’s boots. Ahead a group of orioles were spiralling playfully, chirping at each other, chiming in to produce a bustling but surprisingly enchanting tune. Meanwhile, nearby silver birches were reaching out their twiggy hands to fondly tease these free-spirited creatures. Bortai felt a gentle nuzzle from the small of her back. At the same time, an image of the gushing stream that they had been pacing along came to the forefront of her mind. Bortai turned back to ruffle the mane of Bashudai and waited with a light heart on one side while Bashudai went to refresh herself.
Dada. Dada. The sound of a series of even-paced hoof beats came to her from afar. Her keen ears could clearly make out that only three riders were approaching. Bortai was not particularly worried, as they did not appear to be on pressing business judging by the pace they were travelling at. In fact, Bortai looked forward to a restful afternoon exchanging news over koumiss, joining in one or two long songs and she even felt the whims for asking for a knuckle throwing match. In correspondence with her mood, she gave a cheerful wave to welcome the riders who would be surely see it at this distance.
Suddenly, they sped up. Instinct seized Bortai and in an eye-blink she was on Bashudai riding at a speed rivalling the Steppe Winds. Still, she was beseeching Bashudai to make haste. She craned her head back to look at the riders, now on hot pursuit of herself and hooting in excitement. It dawned on her then. They were Bride Raiders! Bortai made an internal growl of despair which was really more frustration. She could not believe her luck and stupidity. Why had she not thought about the possibility? The Wolf-teeth Moons were ebbing, next came the Bounty Moons. A time for marriages and seeding the next generation of capable hunters and sturdy keepers of the household who would delight in each other’s company and bond to form suitable matches in a continuum adding to the prosperity of each tribe. Also a time for Bride Raiders- enthusiastic youths eager to snare a spirited daughter of the Steppe by impressing her about his warrior prowess, an attribute greatly valued in Crunalan man. It was not that the woman so caught would be forced into a marriage against her will- that would only disrupt the harmonious spirit of the tribe by creating a foolishly unsuitable match between a man and woman who could have both found perfect happiness with someone else. That was not the Crunalan way. While Bortai had been grumbling about the practice of having arranged marriages, she was also thankful that the Crunalan society was practical enough to have set many safeguards against the disastrous possibility of unsuitable matches being formed. Such as the Bride Test that was her excuse of starting this trip.
She was whisked back to the present when the shouts behind her got louder. Bashudai was tiring. Bortai could feel her muscles bunching together underneath herself. Bortai felt exasperated with what had just come up on the Winds. She had no intention of being tangled up in a drawn out ritual of courting as ‘guest’ in a foreign tribe when all she wanted was to sort out her apprehensions before facing up to her looming marriage. She needed solitude to ‘let Time smooth out the crinkles of one’s mind’.
She pictured a hunting knife in her mind and wielded it to cleave through the limp mess of thoughts clouding her mind. She needed calm and clarity to deal with the situation on hand. Wait… she had overlooked something. She concentrated and breathed out a sigh of relief. She signalled for Bashudai to slow now that the ‘peril’ was over. For she just remembered that Aunt Koka had once mentioned that a Sister of Magul, even a trainee one, was exempt from being Chased in this way. Hurriedly, she rummaged in her pack for the talisman that would prove her status as a Sister in training which she had set aside before leaving so that she would not be easily found. Her heart sank. The feeling that she had felt when she left was no trickery of her heart. The important object that she had left behind was the talisman proving her status! She craned her head back to look how far the riders had gained on her in the interim and could feel a wail of despair rising up in her throat when the first rider was now just four horse-lengths behind her.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 6 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
Jagani felt excitement coursing through his veins like the strongest koumiss ever brewed. The Prey was the most untamed and graceful rider that he had ever seen, speeding fearlessly ahead with her mount. She had to be bonded to it! She would be a great catch indeed, although she would be a harder prize to win than they had reckoned on. But then which true Crunalan man does not thirst for the intoxication of a worthy challenge? A smile came unbidden onto his lips.
He glanced across to his two companions and saw that they were both gazing intently ahead at the Prey, with the fire of desire dancing merrily in their eyes. His smile widened. He knew that they too had grasped what he just realised moments ago. He initiated a long song of courtship whose verse just came to him like the waters of a river flowing by on its natural course. Soon all three of them had joined in upon it. Their jovial voices leapt all over the air. Then he saw that she was starting to slow. A gleam lit up his eyes. He gave the signal for Qorchi and Minga to fan out to either side in preparation for trapping the Prey.
Bortai could tell from the glistening coat of moisture on Bashudai and the way she was panting for breath that her magulaje was rapidly tiring. It would not be long before she gave out altogether. She gently laid her palm against the tender spot in between and above Bashudai’s brow ridge in an attempt to soothe her and then felt a tingle stirring within herself. An intangible stream seemed to flow out of her body and into Bashudai, which seemed to have a marked revitalising effect on her magulaje. Soon, Bashudai was breathing long and steady again. Bortai cursed herself for a fool. In her immersion in the thought of escaping, she had entirely forgotten that while Bashudai was winded by the breakneck pace that they had to keep up, she herself still had an abundant supply of vigour that she could share. That latest bout of stamina transfer had only sapped about one third of her total store. In a heartbeat, they were off at top speed, Bashudai loping along in long elegant strides.
She turned her head to check the progress of her pursuers. She was slightly taken aback when she saw only one of them behind her. However, it soon dawned on her what their intention was. Let’s see, Bortai thought to herself as a mischievous smile turned up the corner of her mouth.
Two spectres loomed up respectively at the edges of Bortai’s vision. That was their first mistake. Bortai sneered. At a thought, Bashudai veered towards the right a second before they were about to be trapped amongst the two riders. After that, they flew ahead.
In their single-minded chase and escape sequence, neither parties were prepared when the vast Steppe had suddenly thinned out into a large meadow that was a perfect circle. In particular, the meadow was not deserted but rather dotted with gers on two separate rows on opposing edges of the circle. At its centre, two groups were sitting in a ring broken off straight through the middle. About four strides away on the north and south side of this cracked ring sat five or six elderly figures with snow in their hair. Bortai felt that the scene was somewhat familiar but couldn’t quite place it yet. She glanced backwards to look at her pursuers and saw that they had already dismounted and were standing in a daze. Then confusion was quickly replaced with restless anticipation on their faces. However, they made no movements but stayed where they were. Bortai decided that the prudent approach was to follow suit, at any rate she would have gained some time to continue rummaging for the significance of this gathering from some cobwebbed corner of her mind. Bashudai whinnied. Bortai was annoyed at being interrupted in her thoughts. However, when she lifted up at her head to see a hand beckoning them forwards and then a palm quickly flipping from the downwards position to upwards– the Crunalan gesture for choice, it immediately came to her what this place, and this gathering, was. She had stumbled into the Ctofalir- the Ground of Truce. Moreover, she had inadvertently interrupted a Meeting of Truce between two tribes about to go to war!
Bortai and her pursuers moved forwards at a solemn pace until they were only three paces short of the Elder who had called for them. He demanded their formal names and punctuated his sentence with rising and falling inflections that chase each other in that way taken to bespeak of portentous occasions. The three youths pounced upon this request like wolf packs homing in on the kill. They proclaimed in loud volumes, “Jagani, son of Khuchar and Mide, of the Buryaad!”, “Qorchi, son of Zorig and Chotan of the Dorben, of the Buryaad!”, “Minghangal, son of Arasen and Orbei of the Tsaatan, of the Buryaad!” Bortai was about to calmly state her own when she was drawn to a face as if by invisible but inescapable threads. In that brief glimpse, something threatened to flood her chest that she had no comprehension yet. She forcefully broke off the contact as the current situation intruded upon her thoughts. She had effectively blundered into a war! How could she think about anything else? While the presence of the Elders was to ostensibly give their disinterested judgements on whether it was to be truce or war, she remembered Aunt Koka remarking wryly that their judgements can be summed up as “Truce it shall never be, war the degree of which we shall contain”. At any rate, she was already being offered the choice of choosing which tribe to ‘foster’ with for the coming conflict. She quickly offered a “Bor… Bortani, daughter of Olchubayar and Chagantai, of the Ognuud” before the Elder inviting them could express in words his disgruntlement with her slow reaction. She did not know what seized her but at the last minute she substituted her own formal name for an assumed one. But then she relaxed. It was not an unheard of practice, as young warriors having yet drawn First Blood was often apprehensive of sallying the name of their tribes and ancestors. The idea of assuming for the moment another identity might have just occurred to her as her deep-mind pondered on the situation.
“You have walked into the Gathering of Truce between the Ankali and the Tatars. You have the time of one long song to consider.” The Elder recited earnestly.
The three Buryaad youths bounded off to mingle with the two sides gathered. Bortai followed at a mild pace in their wake. However, if anyone was to observe her closely, the way her throat had made an involuntary gulping motion would betray the inner turmoil she felt. For Bortai knew that her subsequent choice would be vital. The tribe that lost would forfeit all rights to live freely but instead be considered property of the victor. If she happened to choose the tribe that lost, then that would be her fate as well regardless of her status as the eldest daughter of Otgonbayar Khan or as a Sister. She took a deep breath to steady herself. Her first business now would be to choose among these two tribes that she knew naught about. She eyed the three youths eagerly conversing with the tribe warriors present with faint disdain. How could one rely on the impressions gathered from such shallow exchanges to make such a momentous decision? She certainly was not going to base her choice on it. Her mind was spinning furiously to come up with a better approach to gather useful information that could guide her decision. Then Bashudai shifted her footing restlessly. Looking sideways at her, an idea emerged like a shaft of clear light from the haze of Bortai’s mind. Why not get Bashudai to talk to the other maguls gathered here? Whatever knowledge they offered would be guileless and therefore much more trustworthy.
Bortai made the request to Bashudai on their mental-link and waited leisurely for the results. In the interim, her eyes roamed over the various people gathered, forming their own judgements. The first personages that she contemplated on were the chieftains of the two respective tribes. Both chieftains were around the age of her own Khan-father. In particular, Bortai would estimate the age of the chieftain sitting on the left side to be slightly older at early forties, although the fact that one of his eyelids was slightly droopy made him appear even older. He was tall, stocky and the eyes of a tiger stared out of his pockmarked face. Bortai could feel that his bond with his magulanda- a gleaming dark bay, was firm and based on genuine equity between the two parties. Bortai approved. She also noted that he was probably either the father or uncle of the one who had disturbed the strings of her heart so just moments ago, as a blush crept onto her face that she had no awareness of. She had been avoiding direct gazes of him but he seemed to keep materialising on her horizon of his own accord. Bortai forcefully tore her gaze to the other side of the meadow. The other chieftain was of average height but bulkier with muscles like knolls. He had a plain practical face that looked amiable. It appeared that he had brought not his first magulanda but rather a young roan mare full of curiousity that went around sniffing at various plants. It was little wonder that the bond between them was somewhat dominated by the man, like a father guiding his young daughter in navigating the Steppe of life.
“Decision time.” The Elder proclaimed. Bortai walked with determined steps towards her choice.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 7 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
It was already dusk when all the formalities of the Gathering of Truce had been completed. A golden wave washed over The Ctofalir and the vast plain of the Mistflowers growing to its north, thinning out into gauze-thin shards that swam and swirled once it entered the misty domain. Bortai had already settled down with her foster tribe and made her own ger- not a full ger but one that could be packed down and carried on her back and then reassembled upon need. She felt a sense of calm descending on her now that she had made her choice. Just then a pair of steady footsteps sounded outside her ger. This was followed by a manly voice that requested permission to enter. It was him! She had never heard his voice before but instinctively she knew it was his. Composing herself quickly, she bade him enter in a voice containing a slight tremble that sounded like thunder in her own ears.
Now that she saw him at close range, she could see that he was quite tall for his age but a bit on the lean side. Yet, he had strength as befitting a Crunalan warrior. He was not good looking at all but rather remarkable. He had a face of sharp angles, made sterner with a wolf’s gaze and an eagle’s beak for a nose. Upon longer contemplation, though, his youthfulness- he was about the same age as herself, and his air of still being untried softened the feel of severity so that he would not scare even children. He had a thick shock of hair worn billowing around his head like most Crunalan men but he had yet to grow a full beard. There were only stubbles on his chin.
Bortai felt her heart racing and stumbling. For underlying the attraction she felt for him, she now sensed an inexplicable sense of dread when she lay eyes upon him. This made her attracted to but also repulsed by him at the same time. It made her a little… bewildered. So much so that she could not much recollect what they talked in the subsequent exchange between them.
When Temujin exited from Bortani’s ger, he was a bit troubled. However, for the most part, he simply felt himself drifting off dream-like. He did not know what Tengri had set into play to make it so but he was drawn to her shapely figure like bee to honey upon that first glimpse. He could feel his heart fluttering ever since.
When he had mustered the courage to request entrance into her ger, he had felt moist gathering on his palms. His heart briefly quivered with joy when she had agreed. He was immediately attracted by the shape of her ears. It was a pair of very comely ears, with earlobes of good thickness like ripe fruits suffused with sweet juice but not too thick. It reminded him very much of another pair that he could see and adore every day. A smile materialised out of the warmth he felt, that softened his face so much that it actually appeared tender. At the same time, he was still immersed in the image of her in his own mind that was so detailed as if she was standing still for him to openly admire. He could hear his heart pulsating at a steady rhythm as he took in her face. It was not a very feminine face- she had thick eyebrows, resolute eyes and a tall straight nose that screamed formidable at anyone chancing across her the first time. But he knew that she would be perfect for him and yearned for her with all of his heart. Then he sighed. But he was already betrothed and given that his Khan-father was anda to the father of his would-be bride, it would be unseemly for him to initiate a discussion that might harm the relationships between the two. It might even sour the amiable feeling between the two tribes. He was certainly not prepared to shoulder the consequences of such a turn of events. His only hope now would be the Bride Test.
Temujin chided himself for leaping too far ahead in thoughts. It was not like Bortani had already officially answered to his attentions. It was true that she obviously had feelings for him also, he could sense it even though she seemed highly preoccupied in the exchange they just had. Yet, she had also seemed… hesitant to say the least. Was she already betrothed like himself? Or… the possibilities seemed endless now that he thought over it. He felt ire rising within himself. Then the image of that fine earlobe interposed onto the forefront of his mind and he closed his fist in determination. He would win her, and together they would make a match of pure bliss.
It was a full half-month before Bortai and the other members of the Ankali- her foster tribe, had arrived back at their main camp. A half month out of the six months allowed for preparation of war. Although Bortai knew from the information that Bashudai had gathered from the other maguls and sent in time before her choice that she had chosen wisely, apprehension had started to nibble at her. Ever since she had her first close look at him.
She could not help walking around in a daze, oblivious to the curious gazes and warm greetings that her arrival generated among the Ankalis It might have generated a most unpleasant scene but for the intervention of him. “I think our newly acquired Sister is tired from the travels. We will be back after she has rested somewhat.” Then he firmly whisked her off to set up her gerin a place of honour in general vicinity of the Chief’s Ger.
Bortai had indeed dozed when she found nothing to further occupy her time after she had organised and then re-organised her belongings inside the tent. She was awoken when a voice requested her attendance at the Council of War. She sighed in relief as she could tell that it was not him. As she answered to the call and exited, she caught a fleeting glimpse of a seemingly plain face before he walked off briskly, leaving her the sight of only his broad shoulders and stout back. Bortai’s interest was a little piqued at the gleam of sharpness she caught in his gaze. She was not alarmed by it, no, simply intrigued by the personality.
Following in long strides, Bortai was soon led to the Chief’s Ger. She was bade to enter first while the young warrior brought up the rear. When she had seated herself cross-legged (like everyone else already gathered) on one of the honorary positions near the Head of the Ring, the Council was pronounced as officially commenced. Firstly, it was recounted what the cause of the forthcoming tribal war was- as tradition would have it, interspersed with details of grudges held over years. As Bortai expected, it was ultimately a fight over territory. However, there were a number of details concerning the circumstances under which the current conflict arose that jutted out and stayed on her mind. In particular, as far as she could make out, the real major combat between the two neighbouring tribes stretched back almost a full decade ago, before the Winter Sickness had striken down a large number of Ankalis. For a while after this, the Tatars and them had a few skirmishes but they held out well (they boasted of “one Ankali was at least worth five Tartars!” and “pah, those scuffles were little more than children’s play” but knowing Crunalan men, Bortai did not trust their accounts of these encounters at all) despite a substantial shortfall of warriors. Thus, the Tatars did not gain much out of these encounters so the two sides settled into cool disregard of each other again. This was a more or less the state that had persisted up until recently. So what had happened to the Tartars that prompted them to initiate a war? Even if leaving aside biases of the narrating Ankalis, Bortai had the impression that it was the intention of the Tartars to provoke a war. A war that was not to their favour in all appearances now that the Ankali had substantial time to recoup while the Tatars were renowned for intense infighting and periodic splitting of one or two wayward factions. All these converged into one question: Why now?
It was when silence fell that Bortai realised she had spoken it out loud. She reiterated her point, “What other hidden advantages were they counting on?”
Most answered with puzzlement on their faces but here and there eyes were lit up with a thoughtful gleam. Yet no one ventured to provide a spoken response. The idea soon became vapour that were inadvertently taken in and nestled in the mind of those gathered in this Council as a dormant seed.
After this brief episode, the Council went through a few more issues in relation to preparation for the war but Bortai listened with only half a heart. She had the feeling that she was seeing the outline of a rather sinister web of monumental size spun across disparate schemes but she had yet to grasp a single strand of it.
Just then, a question was posed to Bortai and that shifted her full attention back to the gathering at hand, just in time to catch the last part of the query. She heard the term boke and knew that it was nearing the conclusion of this Council at which point ritual decreed that it was time for her to reveal how she would fit in with her foster tribe and the campaign ahead in light of the knowledge she was shared with. She calmly stated that she was deft with the hunting knife and fair at the bow and wrestling. She heard a whistle when she mentioned wrestling and rolled her eyes. She knew it would come. Next would be an invitation to wrestle and unsurprisingly a bass asked in a ringing voice, “A match to prove yourself?”
Bortai nodded and a good-natured uproar soared in the air that took even Yesegei Khan- Bortai had just found out about the name of the chieftain at the start of the meeting, a while to shout down.
“Anything else?” Yesegei asked, which surprised Bortai. It must have shown on her face for he chuckled and explained, “I could tell that you had not finished your sentence despite all the subsequent clamour.”
Bortai gave an assenting nod. “I’m also training to be a Sister.” That drew a collective gasp that quickly turned into rowdy cheer at the fortune and honour of being sent a prospective Sister. This time, however, no impetus was required of Yesegei Khan. The noise died down on its own, transitioning to respectful silence.
“Would you give us the honour of showing you the Ankali warriors and their magulandas?” came the invitation to which Bortai politely accepted.
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 8 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
Otgonbayar were in earnest conversation with his two wives when they were interrupted by a voice that requested entrance. The three of them stood to pay the customary respects but were quickly waved back down by an impatient Koketani. “Borka had left?” she had her eyebrows raised which meant tell me more than a yes or no.
Chechi wisely kept silent while Ariga made a plea with her expressive eyes. Koketani tossed her a white eye and snorted, meaning I will have a reckoning with you, later. That made Ariga wither. In the interlude, Otgonbayar replied a little helplessly, “We were just discussing it. She left a note saying that it was part of her Bride Test. The would-be groom has a year to track her down on the Steppe.”
“A year to track her down on the Steppe? A year!” Koketani fumed and the air suddenly felt much warmer inside the ger.
Otgonbayar cleared his throat as if to start talking but was halted by Chechi’s warning glance. After they had frozen for a time as silent spectators of Koketani’s frantic pacing, she stopped of her own accord. It was then that Chechi ventured to speak in a soothing way, “We all know that Borka can be wilful but she also has sense, in her own way.”
“Sense? You call wandering off without her tailisman of status at the height of the Wolf-teeth Moons sense? And how many time have I warned you against spoiling the children and her in particular?” Koketani glared accusingly at first Ariga and then Otgonbayar.
“But children are to be nurtured without restraint so that they grow in the way they are meant to grow by Tengri.” Ariga said in that completely sincere way of hers that set Koketani’s teeth so much on edge. Before she could make a retort, however, Otgonbayar coughed and reminded them in that placidly serene voice of his that a discussion of the proper way of raising children would be better left to another day.
Koketani spoke while clamping down hard on her own lower lip. “And then this nonsense of tracking down someone within a year on the Steppe? That is not a Bride Test! That is an insult!”
“No, I do not think it an insult. It is a challenge for sure but not impossible. To ask for the Moon or the Stars, that is impossible. But meeting someone within a year? Not so if Tengri wills it. And anyway, any worthy Crunalan man loves a challenge.” Otgonbayar could not help interjecting and was alarmed when he saw her choking on whatever she was about to say next.
“Calm down, I’m sure Borka will be fine.” he said in a pacifying tone.
“Has Father told you about the new passage of the Beginning Lore sang at the meeting of Elders that just went past?” came the unexpected reply, in a trembling voice.
“No, the occasion did not arise.” Otgonbayar gave her a quizzical look, not seeing how the conversation has jumped hither.
“Then, you know nothing, nothing at all of what that wayward child has set into motion.”
Chagan felt like her limbs had turned into clay, the way they do on those rare but really hot summer days. That’s why she had not heeded the call of Ogul and Sorai to go play near the Creek. But she felt bored now that she was alone. Well, not quite alone since Nachan was still sound asleep besides her. And Chagur was due to come back any moment now with the flock. Sure enough, the tent flap parted to admit Chagur with her diminutive form. Even though Chagur was four years her senior, she herself had already grown up to Chagur’s shoulder and she was only eight.
Bounding ahead, Chagan smiled eagerly so that both of her dimples would show. “Chagur Sister,” she began but was cut off.
“Now whatever do you want?” the slightly authoritative words came out of a dainty and rather pouty mouth.
Chagan was unperturbed. Instead, her smile became wider. “How about we wake Nachan and go off for a session of sibling bonding?”
Chagur nodded her assent and Nachan was promptly roused. He blinked his slit-like eyes rapidly for a few times upon awakening but otherwise was in his obedient little brother mood. Being told that they would be going out, he dressed himself capably although, judging from his speed, he was probably still a little sleepy.
Just when the three had exited from Mother Chechi’s ger, they saw several paces ahead of them Bacquder who was heading eastwards. He was thinking hard, with his brows all puckered up. Chagan headed towards him and with one out-reached hand, made to smooth out the crease above the bridge of his nose. Bacquder swatted her hand away and gave her a distant look.
“You let Elder Sister do it.” Chagan accused, clearly displeased.
“But you are not Elder Sister.” came the calm retort.
“But I am still your elder sister by birth.”
“I know you are. And?”
“And you should treat me with respect.”
“Oh, in what way have I not treated you with respect?” he said the whole sentence in an even pace, more so than was his norm.
“You…” Chagan sputtered.
Bacquder opened his mouth as if to make a further comment but Chagur broke in upon them. “Enough bickering, you two.” While Chagur said this, she made sure that both Bacquder and Chagan would be equally exposed to that steady gaze of hers that many found unsettling because she had inherited the odd colouring of her father’s eyes. In her experience, it also happened to be the most effective tool for keeping her siblings in line. Pausing but briefly, she continued. “I know you are both concerned for Elder Sister but arguing between yourselves will not bring her back to us. There is no help for it but to pray to Tengri that the time would be soon…” What Chagur left unsaid shrouded over them. Nevertheless, both Chagan and Bacquder had loosened up from the rigid stance that their bodies had unconsciously adopted and they subsided into silence.
Seeing this, Chagur turned to Bacquder and said cordially, “We were about to go off on a session of sibling bonding. Care to join us, Bacquder?”
After some hesitation, Bacquder politely declined, “I have other business to attend to.” With that, he briskly headed off towards his original destination.
“So where do you two want to go?” Chagur asked her two younger siblings.
“To the Creek!” “To the Big Tree!”
Chagur was exasperated to see a verbal battle starting between Chagan and Nachan, again. She did not intervene but rather patiently waited them out. For she knew that the two would make their peace eventually. When exactly they would do it the best shaman could not have foretold but she knew that it would occur over an eye blink. That’s how erratic the two were.
True to the nature of their ‘feuds’, the two children were holding hands and skipping along in a single direction already. Towards the Creek. Ah, so Chagan had ‘won’ this time. Chagur wondered what ‘small boon’ she had agreed to in exchange for getting her way this time. A smile had crept onto Chagur’s face, replacing the detached expression that she normally wore in front of these two trouble makers.
Bortai idly cast her glance over the training ground and saw that everywhere, there was bustling activity-young warriors sparring with each other, older warriors showing youths certain techniques and individuals practising their skills with the bow. On the faces of each, there was eagerness and resolution. Then she spotted two familiar faces, that of the youth with a plain face and the sharp gaze- she had later learnt that he was a Nergei, and another that she had often seen often in the company of Nergei and him. She had not yet learnt the name of the latter. He was actually the best looking among the three youths (at least according to Crunalan standards) but Bortai did not much care for his habits of incessant talking. It reminded her too much of Nala and she felt it unbecoming for a man. Ah well, he was at least not unpleasant in feel, she thought. The two of them were sparring with each other. Bortai felt her eyes lit up. While she was originally only drawn because of the familiar faces, she was riveted by the display of their respective skills. Each was a good warrior but in completely different ways. And they were evenly matched. Bortai could see that already more than her own gaze had been drawn by the remarkable display of battle prowess shown by these two.
Where the strength of the loudmouth lied in was obvious. True to his form, his crushing blows were very powerful and he was bold in movements. Meanwhile, Nergei really took Bortai by surprise. For while Nergei was visibly shorter in comparison, he was about similar in bulk and yet he moved about a nimbleness that was characteristic of someone much slighter in build. Thus, a broad sweep or an audacious lunge would be countered with a skilful deflection or else stepping aside just in time. By now, cheers had already rung out all around, urging either one or even both of them on. Certainly, both of them deserved respect for their achievements. Bortai basked in the atmosphere of cheerful activity on the ground and felt, for the first time since she had stumbled into the Ctofalir, somewhat relaxed. However, the feeling was destined to be short-lived. As she looked upon those gathered here, she suddenly wondered how many of them would live through to the end. She had no inkling where the thought came from but it loomed up large and dark across the horizons of her mind.
Then a figure that she was learning to crave but also dread for seemingly floated into her field of vision. The sight immediately dispelled the shadow on her mind, leaving not even a scintilla of it. Yet, a new worry came to replace it. When she had set the terms of her Bride Test, she was merely thinking of stalling for time. She did not really contemplate the feasibility of the terms from the angle of his betrothed. Now that she thought about it, it seemed harsh indeed. And yet, what if his betrothed actually found her in time? What then in light of her growing attraction to him? And in the converse happenstance, then how would she contend with the nameless and unfathomable dread at the sight of him, notwithstanding her deep-seated fear of marriage itself whose source still remained a mystery to her? On top of all, there is also her memory loss and the circumstances of her ‘accident’ to reckon with.
The figure made for her. Before she could dispel the spell of petrification lay on her feet by the recent turn of her thoughts, he was already there. In front of her and looking at her as if he had every right to. Bortai could feel heat assaulting her cheeks and lowered her gaze.
She heard suppressed mirth in his voice as he started to talk but it soon turned to solemnity. “Bortani, the second Council of War has been initiated. Your attendance would be an honour to us.”
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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 9 By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
Unlike the last time, Bortai was not among the last to enter the Chief’s Ger. She was steered to an Honorary position even closer to Yesegei Khan, right next to him who escorted her all the way here. Once all who were required to attend had seated themselves, Yesegei declared without preamble, “The Tatars had formed an alliance.” His eyes roamed over those gathered, gracing each with a brief but earnest stare. He proceeded in a grave tone. “With the Morghanan.”
The Morghanan… Bortai searched her mind for a while and counted her luck when the snatch of conversation in which Aunt Koka had mentioned these people came to her grasp. A tribe of shamans, a tribe of recluses. Those were Aunt Koka’s exact words. The shamans were the only ones who could wield magic on the battlefield. It chilled Bortai to think that they would come up against such odds.
A commotion broke out immediately. “But how?!” “Tengri’s Will!”
“Silence! We have gathered here today to find a solution.” Yesegei Khan’s determined voice overrode all and spread out as a tide that strengthened the hearts of the gathering.
“Easy to say as an assurance,” a snort came from a man in late thirties with a pudgy face. Behind him sat a crowd of sturdy warriors in middle and late twenties. He himself was seated at the first place below the Honourary Ring. Bortai knew that meant he was First Hunt Leader of the tribe.
Before Yesegei could reply, another voice coming from further back, going just beyond Bortai’s field of vision, intruded into the exchange. “Then let the Wolf of the Ankali give us his solution first.” When he got to the term ‘the Wolf of Ankali’, a mocking tone came onto his voice and that caught Bortai’s attention. The Wolf of Ankali… She thought she had heard the term somewhere but she could not remember exactly in what reference to. Yet she had a feeling that it would be significant somehow. She felt a little vexatious that such details chose to elude her at that moment but she shrugged her emotions aside. It was more important to concentrate on the meeting at hand.
“I propose that we make alliances of our own in the additional time granted to us in lieu of this new happenstance.” Yesegei did not rise to the bait but chose to calmly but firmly state his solution.
“With whom that is mighty enough to contend with the Morghanan?” came the retort, in an almost accusatory tone.
“With whomever we can ally with.” Yesegei did not flinch.
“And why would anyone want to risk themselves for our sake?” this was from the First Hunt Leader.
At this point, it was clear to Bortai that the First Hunt Leader and the other unseen person were working in concert to oppose Yesegei Khan. To what purpose she had no idea but her heart told her that it boded ill. Moreover, she felt intuitively that she would be able to pinpoint the exact source of such unease when, if, her memory comes back. Again, it came back to her memory loss. She felt frustration mounting like a tidal wave within herself.
While Bortai was thus absorbed in her own thoughts, a long discourse of verbal lunge and riposte went on, first between three personages only but soon engulfing more and more of those gathered until it became a hot debate. Bortai tuned out for a while to prevent further provocation that could push her emotions beyond the brim.
Outside the Chief’s Ger, the sky had invariably darkened into the soft grey of dusk. The seven stars forming the Temul’s Tail took turns peeking out from behind the thin gauze that separated the Heavenly realm from the mortal one. The Crunalan Steppe hummed with a soft note that vibrated in the hearts of not just the Ankalis but all Crunalans who live on its vastness. In this magical moment, quarrels were quietened and grudges were cast aside. So it came to be that on the cusp of disbanding, the Council came to consensus that alliances would be sought out and forged to countermand the pact between the Tartars and the mighty and mysterious Morghanan.
“Have you any thoughts to whom we shall call on first when forging our alliances?” the First Hunt Leader said in a much softer tone that he had used throughout the Council, as if he was just starting to genuinely contemplate on this issue rather than just being quarrelsome. Still, Bortai was taken by surprise when he added “Khan-brother.” in a half sigh. So the First Hunt Leader was younger brother to Yesegei Khan and uncle to him!
Yet, the shock that came with the realisation was destined to be surpassed by what Bortai heard next.
“I have an anda, an anda who is a wise and good natured man. He is Khan of the Ontaggarit. We shall start with him first. As many of all already know, he is also soon to be the wife-father of my eldest son Temujin, hafin of our Ankali.”
Bortai felt her head spinning. The last vision she saw in her hazy vision was his face in which concern shone forth like two beacons of light despite the mist coming to shroud over her sight.
Bortai woke up in her ger and felt disorientation for a moment. Then the weight of the bushels of memories settling into place in her mind seemed like an assault after she had gotten used to the lightness associated with only remembering her immediate family and her two friends. A bitter smile came onto her lips. The return of her memories was indeed beyond what she had expected and bargained for. It did not bring the clarity that she had hoped for but rather more problems to circumvent.
Bortai she was (or had been) indeed but not the right Bortai. She was altogether in the wrong universe or plane of reality or whatever it is. She had never had much a mind for these fantastical concepts while living in her own world. In her own world, she had been a Bortai but that was her previous reincarnation. Her temples had started to throb at the notion that reincarnation truly existed in a concrete way rather than as an abstract concept passed down through folklore. Nevertheless, she was given some answers to the skeins of puzzlement that were previously clogging up her mind, such as the feeling of familiarity and distance from the Crunalan society that she had felt simultaneously, such as her not recognising her aunt Koka who was a unique figure in this particular universe, such as that unsuccessful first ‘trial’ with Qasqhai. All of them came down to her being the wrong Bortai! And her ‘accident’ probably had something to do with it also. She smiled again, this time in irony, at the thought of how she had previously been convinced that everything would come to light if she could uncover what really happened during her ‘accident’. But now the details of her ‘accident’ would probably never come back to her simply because those memories did not belong to her at all.
As she let go of this belief that she had been clinging on, her mind reflexively contemplated on her most recent reincarnation in her own world. For all she knew, she might have gone through numerous reincarnations but all she had memories of were her most recent two, before she came here. She reflected bitterly that she was finally able to pinpoint her sense of dread at the notion of marriage. For a second, she experienced anew the anguish she felt when she was ditched by her first and only boyfriend for a younger girl whose family had better connection than hers, which was nothing as she was orphaned young. Yet soon, the feeling became merely wisps of light smoke that dissipated with the winds. Gone with it also was the tiredness that permeated her bones in the subsequent days she spent numbing herself with work and wearing solitude as a shell. She felt that she had been made anew, having shrugged off the restraints on her imposed by her modern life. She could see in retrospect that she had never truly belonged there, not to that time and not to that place. Instead, the whole of that life was stifling her, deadening her from inside. She felt unspeakably relieved and gratified that she was once again back where she knew she belonged to with her heart and soul. While this was not the exact Mongol society that she had once been part of, it had enough resemblance to it (in fact, minus any fantasy elements, it was pretty much the same) and she was once again back on the Great Steppe.
She also got a second chance to be with Temujin, her one and only true love from two lives. Now, she finally came to understand that she had never loved her modern day boyfriend. She had chosen out of the rational part of her mind because he was good natured and treated her well but she had never given him her heart. The anguish she felt when they had broken up did not stem out from her feelings for him but because she was (is and always will be) proud and thought of it as a betrayal. But Temujin, he was her soul-partner and the father of their beloved children. She smiled when she considered their fine progeny, their four sons who were hale and either strong as a warrior or wise as a man and their five daughters who had each gained a successful match with men who not only valued them for their status but also come to appreciate them for who they truly were as a woman.
And yet, cold dread seized the nape of her neck and slithered down her spine, tormenting her by inching its way across. Jochi. Her- no, their first born, for Temujin had acknowledged him as his own despite the awkward timing of his birth. And there was no doubt that he was raised up lovingly by both of his parents. The household was still all harmony and bliss after their second son Chagadai was born and growing up. But time played cruel tricks on relationships sometimes. As the Mongol empire expanded, so too did the gulf grow between Temujin and Jochi. And then there was the irreconcilable split between Jochi and Chagadai after Chagadai uttered those words that torn a gouge in her heart. To top it off, she had to outlive the Great Man himself and witness him dying, not in glory nor even contentment (as befitting someone who was such a legend known throughout the East and West and hailed as having achieved so much) but in regrets and grief that had built up upon the years. And she understood perfectly why it was, and indeed had to be so. For great though Temujin was as a man and a leader, he was prone to periodic rashness. Coupled with his tendency to take things to the extreme- a product of the trials he had been through after the whole of his family was cast out of the tribe after his Khan-father’s death, he had performed not many but enough deeds that he later disapproved or even found abhorrent of. Would things be different here, in this alternative world?
Bortai took a long breath and then let it out again, to steady herself. From the place most deep and dear to herself, she drew up the resolve to chance it. She was determined to weather the future together with Temujin, regardless of whether good or ill come of it. Besides, she believed that it would be different this time. It was already different. Yesegei was still alive and she would do her best to ensure that he remains so.
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The Return of the White Deer- Prologue By: Moonlake ( Articles ) Fiction - Gaming - Genre
She has been wandering in this… she paused as she struggled to find the right words to describe this place she was in now. Sight, sound, smell and sensations are all null here. As for thoughts, well, she no longer had much need for them. After all, this place is a place of emptiness, of nothingness, a void. Yes, that’s the word, a void. A void that is making her part of its very substance at a painstaking slow pace. Like a malicious predator playing with its prey, devouring it in tiny mouthfuls each time. At first, she tried to resist, to fight. She tried to cling onto herself, driven by an instinctive sense of self preservation. But she was just one being in this vast void, one drop of water in a sea. Ultimately, determination gave way to indifference. Why resist something inexorable? So she wanders, wanders in a listless way until she knows no more, becomes no more. But not yet. Yes, the time has not come, yet.
Then she felt a distant throbbing, from a distance that defied comprehension. It was moving towards her, first at the same excruciating pace that this place is disintegrating her but slowly building up in speed. Then it was there- a vortex of darkness spinning at dizzying speed. It pounced on her and swallowed her whole…
The opening of the tent flap alerted the three figures jovially engaged in wrestling. In the blink of an eye, the impossible tangle of arms and legs had miraculously separated into three youths, well-built but not yet hardened into form, with many chances to grow yet. They stood up in proper deference to the visitor, the Khan of their tribe and one of the elders dear to them all, but otherwise was at ease.
“Khan-father.” “Uncle Yesu.” “Khan-aegin” Three enthusiastic greetings came to Yesegei’s ears and he smiled. He walked further into the ger and led the youths across to the centre of Temujin’s ger so that they could all sit around a burning fire in the morning chill.
Yesegei surveyed the three youths in front of him with satisfaction. His eyes automatically went to the tallest but also the leanest, , and he sighed despite himself. If only the others of the Circle would come around and see what Temujin would be able to offer the tribe. It was true that his son was merely a competent fighter. Even more troubling, Temujin was well-rounded in, which really meant being mediocre across, all aspects concerning combat. In his youth, he himself would have scoffed at the notion of entrusting the future of the tribe to such a leader. However, he has since seen things differently. Changed by his personal experience at being chieftain, he felt in his heart that of the hafins- contenders for future chieftainship, Temujin whose eyes contain determination way advanced of his own age would be the greatest fit for the position. On top of this, there was Temujin’s seeming indifference to whether he would actually ascend to the position. Despite the substantial amount of time he devoted to learning of the various aspects of managing a tribe’s affairs, Yesegei knew that Temujin did so out of a sense of duty rather than his own desire. Yesegei was afraid that this just added to sentiment against Temujin becoming Khan after himself. Oftentimes, he would find himself torn. He frequently questioned whether he should really be forcing the burden of leadership on Temujin that he clearly did not want for himself. Yet, it would truly be a great loss to the tribe if he was rejected by the Circle in favour of another.
Then his gaze shifted to the left, to a much stockier and not much shorter figure. Borochu, whose grandfather traced to generations ago came out of the same womb as his own forbearer and who grew up under his gaze as much as that of Borochu’s own father. At the age of nineteen, Borochu was already a sharp blade unsheathed. He smiled appreciatively. Then his eyes strayed to the other side of Temujin, to Nergei. About the same build as Borochu but half a head shorter, Nergui was utterly unassuming, thus easily missed. At the same time, his eyes miss nothing, vigilant like those of hawks that circle their preys. Mentally, Yesegei nodded with approval at these three that are the most promising of the hafins, who encapsulate the future of the tribe.
“Khan-Father?” a surprisingly firm voice broke in on Yesegei’s reverie that carried him further and further away from what he came to discuss.
“I came to discuss the coming meeting at the Ctofalir.” Yesegei announced in a grim voice.
“What about it? Either the Tatar backs off or we fight, right?” Borochu shrugged as if it made no difference to him either way. That earned him a swat on the back of his head.
“Crunalan men are not scared of risking their lives on the battlefield. But like the wolf, one has to know when to back off and when to stay firm and fight to the death.” Yesegei started to lecture but then stopped when he saw that Borochu had half turned his head to make faces at Temujin and Nergui. He could feel his palm starting to itch. He ignored the urge and carried on with where he left off before getting distracted. “I have… a bad feeling about it.” A dull sheen had momentarily settled over his gaze when he uttered the words. While he was unaware of it himself, this did not escape the keen eyes of Temujin and Nergui. However, rather than interrupting, the two merely waited to hear more.
“Just remember to take care, the three of you.” Yesegei paused and then looked keenly at Borochu and Nergui especially. “Watch out for each other.” With that he made an abrupt departure, leaving the three youths dumbfounded and staring amongst themselves.
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