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.
Additional Ideas (1)
Also wondering if the ending to this Chapter seems a bit of an anti-climax or whether it would do?