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The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 8

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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!

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.”



Additional Ideas (1)

Crunalan terms glossary
Nergei- literally meaning "no name", a taboo name given to an orphan to ward off bad luck but also a name that carries with it stigma due to the way personal worth is assessed in the Crunalan society. Specifically, personal value is assessed first and foremost in terms of contribution to the family unit and then to the overall tribe. With teenagers and youths, it is especially the case that his/her personal worth is almost exclusively cast in terms of how far they help to advance the prosperity and status of his/her own family. Hence, given that the Crunalans are a superstitious people, the main situation facing orphans is that no family would want to take him/her in, thus by default making him/her an individual with little personal worth as assessed by his/her own society.
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2015-01-02 06:33 PM » Link: [8041#93015|text]
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Comments ( 11 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

axlerowes
January 5, 2015, 20:28
5xp
Section 1: I really like the non-verbal discussion going on in this section. That is cool. But you could do us favor and work in reminders of who each of these people are. We are still not very far into the book and these people have not done much to make them stand out. Also, this is happening before the events of the previous chapter?
Moonlake
January 5, 2015, 23:45
0xp
This is one of the few scenes that I added on-the-fly during writing and I think I vaguely had in my mind that this scene and the one after it happened somewhere in the interim between Bortai's escape and the last scene of the current Chap. Now that I think about it, it does happen before the events of the previous Chapter. I might have to reorganise these two scenes or make this more explicit for the readers. Thanks for catching it.
axlerowes
January 5, 2015, 23:50
0xp
You prose is much more impressionistic than objective or literal. It is not unlike an epic poem, we have a poor sense of time, but we get the broad strokes of it.
Moonlake
January 6, 2015, 0:06
0xp
That would be a complimentary way of saying it. I have often wondered whether the mention of time in the story makes actual sense or not (all the duration stuff like Bortai getting married in half a year and the war prep.) but I just have no idea.
axlerowes
January 5, 2015, 20:36
0xp
Section 2:

I have no idea what is going on here or who these people are. I suppose Ogul and Sorai are other children. I suppose we will find out later why Chagan's arms feel like mud and what it is her elder sister did. All we know now is there are five siblings.
Moonlake
January 5, 2015, 23:47
0xp


The 4 children in this scene are Bortai's younger siblings, Ogul and Sorai are friends of Chagan. Chagan's arms feeling like clay was just prosaic form of saying she feels languor (due to Bortai running away). Again, a scene that came to me on-the-fly, I will signpost to the readers that they are back at the Ontaggarit in my next edit.

axlerowes
January 5, 2015, 21:11
0xp
I like that you book end with the Bridetest and the descriptions of the sparring are fun and easy to read. But again you don't surprise us with the character's as they spar. I think your prose here is strong, but your scenes are so short that indirectness of your style makes it difficult to put the scene together. By the time you have got it, the scene is over. I would say if you are going to write very short scenes like this be very demonstrative (like writing an abstract) and for most part you are in this case.
Moonlake
January 6, 2015, 16:44
0xp
I think most of the short scenes I wrote are those that I felt I was out of my elements (action scenes mostly) or just wrote up on-the-fly with unclear idea of content. I think both scene 1 and 2 are in the latter category although I'm somehow quite liking how scene 1 stops at a sort of cliffhanger and scene 2 I can live with. The sparring scene is definitely because I always get stuck when describing a fight, just the attempt to create a mental picture of the actual motions in a fight in my own head makes it whirl around in confusion. In the end, I said, "to hell with it, I'm not R.A Salvatore writing up the story of a blade user against the world." and this is the result.
axlerowes
January 6, 2015, 17:03
0xp
What I meant by surprise is that two characters spar exactly as we would expect them to spar based on earlier descriptions of their personalities.


I have an idea......
Moonlake
January 6, 2015, 18:07
0xp
I was mainly referring to your comment above regarding the shortness of my scenes but well, I always say multiple things in 1 comment. And I'm dying to hear this idea of yours.
axlerowes
January 6, 2015, 23:14
0xp
Totally forgot said idea....stupid ellipses

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