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.