Monday, June 19, 2017

Chapter 23, A Total Eclipse of the Son

As the evening shadows lengthen, announcing the beginning of the long night, an eerie howl echoes through the growing darkness; soon others of her kind answer her song. Evidently satisfied with her endeavour, she lowers her muzzle from the sky and sniffs the air.

She is large for her species, nearly twice the size of her normal kindred, and she is more intelligent than many people seem to be. Her twilight grey fur, tipped with black, makes her nearly invisible in most surroundings, should she so choose to be; while ever-vigilant golden eyes give hint to her cunning nature.
Her world isn't black and white, nor is it colour... her world is hot and cold. She sees all that can be seen, but not as those she has bonded with see. She sees the varying temperature of things, living and non-living. Her hearing is, to say the least, acute. As she runs through the dense woodland, she hears the rustle of the field mouse scurrying through the dead leaves upon the forest floor from a great distance away.
Her true sense, the one above all others, is her sense of smell; with it, she can track anything she chooses at any time, day, or night. It is also a warning system unlike any other; she can sense approaching danger from far away, if the wind is right; but at this moment, she is concentrating on him, only on finding him.
She runs through the dense undergrowth, leaving no trace, making no sound other than her breathing, heading straight for him. She senses him and knows exactly where he is, what he is doing, and what he wishes from her. His thoughts are hers, she knows him better than he knows himself, and there is reciprocity. She loves him, as he loves her; they have been through so much together. They are more than friends or companions, or even family... they are ONE, inseparable, indomitable.
The ground passes beneath her feet as she devours the distance between them, tireless in her endeavour, single-minded in her purpose. Her one, all consuming thought is to get to him, no matter what. He is her life, her reason for being, as she is for him, and she understands this, in more than some primitive way.
Her loyalty to her human companion is undeniable and enduring, even unto death; in fact, she has died for him, and he for her, on numerous occasions.
She came to him long ago, in answer to a summons. She felt his pain and loneliness as he poured his heart and soul into the magic and she remembers the desperation of his call, so many years past. She could sense his honour and his pride, both buried deep, hidden away in some dark recess; she knew he thought both were lost to him forever.
It was always her choice to answer the calling, as well as her decision to stay with the man. She knew there was something about him; she could feel Death following in his footsteps, always looking over his shoulder.
He was fierce and primal, yet she could sense he was also caring and intelligent, a duality that she had never known before; he was different than any she had ever encountered.
She felt the shadows about him, struggling to overcome the light hidden deep within, the constant battle going on inside him, the never ending war over who, or what, would own this man, Light, or Shadow. It was this battle that made her name so fitting... Eclipse
She knew that binding herself to this man, becoming one with him, would be a lifelong endeavour, for once bound they were to walk one single path. The woman from his past, whose eyes matched his, led her to him and The Light placed the mark upon her; a small, light coloured, sunburst shape, standing out clearly from the dark fur of the rest of her muzzle. She knows what the mark means, and what it means to him.
Times have changed since their bonding, many years ago. Together they have fought, side by side, in the multitude of battles and wars that have taken place in the last two decades, and she watched as it took a terrible toll on him. The man became nothing more than a very prolific killer, and, depending on whom was telling his story, even a murderer.
Once more deeply scarred on the inside than he is on the outside, the man has been healed. She believes the raven-haired woman has done more to heal him than anything, and she loves her as much as the man does for this.
After the last war against Shadow, she traveled with the man into the hot sands as he answered the calling, she met his people, and it pleases her that he finally has complete happiness in his life.
As she clears the last stand of trees, she sees him across the meadow, the raven-haired woman at his side, and she can feel the love shared between them, and it brings her joy. He whistles loudly and she increases her pace, racing to meet them. She stops a mere foot away from him and sits at his feet until he taps himself on the chest, then, standing on her hind feet, she places her front paws on his shoulders and he hugs her massive frame to him, ruffling the fur of her mane as she licks his face with her rough tongue.

Yes, all is now as it should be; all is right with her world, and she senses, from some great span beyond life, the woman, with eyes matching those of her son, is also happy.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Chapter 22, Red Sky In Mourning

Ten years before this tale

The seven-year-old boy runs through the flap of the tent, the taunts from the other children loud in her ears.  His nose if bloodied and he has a number of bruises, and he has been crying.  She says nothing to him, but she hands him a piece of wet linen, which he uses to wipe the blood from his face.

Three years later

The cries of the children bring her outside the tent at a run.  Her son has knocked a boy down in the sand and pummels another boy mercilessly, expressing his rage with each blow, earning respect with each strike; it is the way of the people.  He has learned well in three years and rarely has to fight anymore, and when he does, he fights to win, no matter what it takes.


Her mind returns from it's wandering and she lifts her tear-stained face towards the rising sun, her eyes closed against the intense glare.  She raises her voice to the reddened sky, her keen of misery and despair ringing loud across the sands, echoing across the dunes; it is as if the desert shares her pain.

She grieved for him last night, and the three previous nights, as she will grieve for him for the next three nights.  It is the old way of her people, not practiced nearly as much as it once was, but her right nonetheless; she has earned this, and she will not fail to honour him.

Dried droplets of her blood surround her; staining the sand to a deep, dark sienna.  She raises the short bladed ceremonial dagger to her forearm and makes a quick cut, allowing more blood to flow into the hungry sand, darkening it further as her mournful cries increase in intensity.

From the camp on the other side of the large dune from where she sits, pouring her agony into the skies and onto the sands, her husband waits, uttering no sound; his eyes, appearing at least a century older than just a few short days ago, stare unseeingly into the distance.

If one were to observe him closely, which would be considered extremely rude in this society, the lines around his eyes would appear to grow deeper with each of his wife's agonized cries.  In his hand are six arrows, gripped so tightly that, if you were close enough, you could hear the wood of their shafts cracking each time the woman wails.

He too is in mourning, and, though it is more stoic than that of his wife's, it is no less and his heart is broken as well.

Their culture, as much as they revere it, is the cause of their pain.  You see, they have lost their only child, a son.  They raised this boy to manhood, watched him grow, nurtured him, taught him, and loved him.  He was everything to them; their reason for being, and either of them would have died to protect him.  He was their future.

As with all male children in their clan, their child underwent the Trials of Manhood, a series of twenty-two tasks designed to test the young male just entering manhood.  Some trials are extremely difficult, even deadly at times, others are purely instructional, the design of all twenty-two are to prepare the young man for the rigors and difficulties of being a man of the Tehir people.

Their son, through blood and pain, completed all twenty-two of the trials, and because of this, he is gone.  They do not see it this way, they hold no bitterness towards the beliefs of the people; they harbour only pain from the loss of their only son.

Though adopted and not born to them their love for their son was no less, in fact, due to K'miza being unable to bear children to Garrone, their love for their son was probably more precious than with most parents.

Garrone makes the trip up into the dunes, intent on bringing his wife back to their tent, which now seems so empty with the loss of their son.  Deep in his soul, he wishes he could express his grief as his wife does.  But that is not their way.

As he reaches K'Miza he helps her to her feet and she leans heavily against him.  He feels her weakness, picks her off her feet, and carries her back to their tent.  She has lost so much life in so short a time, and he worries for her.

She sobs softly against his shoulder as she allows him to carry her home, and his hearts breaks just a little bit more.  As he places her on their sleeping mats, he goes to the small cooking area and makes her a cup of tea.

As she sips tiredly at her tea, she looks deep into her husbands' eyes.  "Garrone," she says.  "What will happen to our son?  What will he become without his people?" 

Garrone looks sadly at his wife.  "K'Miza, our son will be what he was meant to be, nothing more, nothing less.  It is the way of it."

Garrone looks lovingly at the woman he adores and respects so much, takes her hand in his, and says, "Radeek will survive."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Memoirs of Radeek Andoran, a Partial Telling

I have lived a life filled with rage and hate, loaded with regret and sorrow, driven by the need to avenge my people, a life that was not my own to live, forced upon me in my youth.  Sometimes we just aren't given a choice; destiny overcomes want, and need becomes the over-riding factor, until it becomes too late to change.

I came from the Sea of Fire, for, you see, I am Tehir.  My life has been difficult and, at times, nearly unbearable.  Until quite recently I never knew who my father was, and I lost my mother at the age of seven to an Imperial raid upon my camp that killed everyone but myself and one young woman, who I killed out of mercy; her injuries were far too grievous for her to live and she was in agony.

A Tehir raider named G'Arrone found me, and he and his wife, K'miza, adopted me.  Both are wonderful people and I could not have asked for better second-parents.  They taught me all I needed to know about survival, right and wrong, good and evil, and, most importantly, what it means to be Tehir.

But no matter what they taught me it seems my life had been pre-ordained and not my own to live.  There was a prophecy, whispered to me by my dying mother that spoke of my life to be and what I was to become.  Her words to me had been forgotten, possibly due to the trauma of her loss, and were not remembered until my final Trial when I was given a hallucinogenic drink which brought it all back in the form of a vision, or, as the Tehir call it, golbuir fiier, Riding the Veil, or, as others would call it, a Spirit Walk.

This vision cost me dearly.  I was ostracized from my adopted clan; I was seen as unsuitable for clan life.  I was sixteen years old and I was alone in the Sea of Fire; this in itself was not a problem, I had been taught how to survive in this environment.  The greatest loss was that I now had no people, I belonged nowhere, and I was alone, again. 

After a time I got on with a caravan that traded within the Sea of Fire, and I stayed with it for almost two years.  I then travelled into the lands of the Empire, eventually making my way to Wehnimer's Landing and Icemule Trace. 


We live by the choices we make, we are judged by our actions, and we live with the results.  Life is relatively simple if you are willing to accept your life as it is.  Things only get difficult when we try to change things, for whatever reason; therefore, I believe my life is quite simple, since I have never wasted my time denying what I was, nor what I am.

There was once a time when I was seen as honourable, the knightly sort of honourable, chivalrous, polite...even nice.  Those days are behind me now, they are long gone; circumstances changed everything and one decision, one choice, made me into what I am now.  I will not say that what I did was a mistake, even though there have been many times over the years that I have looked back and wondered how my life might have turned out had I gone the other way, had I let my friends and compatriots be sacrificed at the hands of an alliance founded in darkness.

I have often asked myself if I was ever given a choice to go back and change my decision, would I?  Believe me, I have been tempted many times by this thought, but each and every time the answer has always been "No."  I am what I am because of what I did and the reasons I did it; I can be nothing else.  To arrive at a different decision would not have been who and what I am; my honour would not allow it to be any other way.

I bent the knee once, I took the oath, received the blessing, and "POOF," I was knighted; and then, I wasn't...and my life was changed.  As difficult as it was for me to accept, as angry as it made me, it really could be no other way, and, as my people say, "it is the way of it."  I try very hard to live life as it comes and not dwell on the past, but once in a while I catch myself imagining what my life as a knight might have been like, had I been allowed to walk that path.

Instead, the life that I was "blessed with" led me through blood, pain, loneliness, death, and shadow.  But it also gave me Phever, Eclipse, and the few true friends that I have; I call that a fair trade, and I would do it again, without a second thought.

When I was told that I was not to be a knight, that it was as if it never happened, I grew angry.  Feelings that I had thought buried, resurfaced, and it brought back my hatred for the Empire, especially knights. 

The title Knight has never been what I hated though, it is the grand illusion that some of them perpetrate about how their vows are so binding and so very right, and how all others are trivial, at best.  I had not seen this broken until the Order of the Silver Gryphons stood up to defend Wehnimer's Landing, and this gave me a newfound respect and admiration for their Order, but only their Order, and none other. 

My actions in the Taladorian War, and the War against the Shadows that followed, closely mirrored my service in the Griffin Sword War.  I was violent, in the extreme, but the benefits of being such far outweighed the costs.  I was once labelled as something undesirable in the ranks of the forces that defended those who fought in the side of "right" and "good," and I wore that label once again in these wars.  Unlike the Griffin Sword War, this time I did not let it stop me or change my path in any way, I embraced it and used it to my advantage.

I fought with a fury that surprised even me, and though the cost to those close to me was extremely high, I feel I made a difference.  My choices were never justified; I didn't care about justification to others, only to myself.  I fought, bled, and died time and again for a cause, yet in the end few saw that; but I will know, as will those close to me, and that is all that matters.  I've never been one to appease the majority, most won't make the hard decisions anyway; so, people like me make them for them, and we act upon those decisions as we see fit. 

I was called Bloodthirsty and Warmonger by those who either could not, or would not, understand my methods, yet those who spoke those words knew little to nothing of me, nor do they really know the meaning of those words.  Truly, I felt them cowardly for their methods; some even sided with the enemy at various times... some were even my friends.   

Bloodthirsty people cannot cope without strife; they need to spill blood to justify their existence.  I do not have that need, I just don't hide from the fact that I am very good at killing, and I never shy away from it.  Warmongers WANT war; I have never wanted it, even though I do seem to thrive in it and take no small measure of satisfaction in serving in it.  I do not go out of my way to cause war, but I will go out of my way to see that people who cannot defend themselves are protected and kept from harm, even if it means appearing to love war, which I suppose I do, just a little.

My choices during the Griffin Sword War sprang from a need to protect those who would have been sacrificed to bring about darkness.  I killed Dark Alliance members whenever and wherever I found them; those were dark times and desperate measures were needed.  I take no pride in what I did, other than the knowledge that I saved people who would otherwise have been put under the knife for the purposes of evil.

Time and again, my arrows and thorns found their mark, and loud was the outcry against my methods.  It never ceases to amuse me that when people side with evil, most of them can stomach just about anything that is done to innocents to further their cause, yet, for a vast majority of them, when the time comes to pay the piper their whining is nearly constant.  I must admit though, it did come as a surprise when most of my own friends and acquaintances turned on me and ostracized me, citing my methods as evil and counter-productive, even when the innocents I set out to rescue were saved, unharmed.

For many years after the Griffin Sword Wars I was alone, few would even acknowledge me.  My anger was like a cancer, eating me to the bone, slowly devouring the Ranger of Phoen from within.  I lived on the fringes; welcome nowhere, barely tolerated to even walk through the gates of any town.  It was a lonely time for me, and, on many occasions, I had considered giving up, walking away, and never returning.  I turned my back on the side of light, I spurned my deity; after all, I thought, what had the Lord of Light done for me, except ignore my prayers and watch my descent into shadow. 

I slowly became that which I despised most...a man without a cause, with no purpose other than to exist, unless there was a war.  It was during these times of war and strife that I excelled.  Perhaps I had a death wish, I don't know.  What I do know is that people like me fight for those who, for whatever reason, can't fight for themselves. 

People like me do ANYTHING to win; victory can never be achieved with clean hands; the enemy must be made to understand the costs associated with warfare, they must be made to bleed.  The screams of dying people, their civilian populace, and not just their soldiers, must be heard throughout their lands; though the killing of civilians is distasteful, it is a necessity.  If the enemy sees themselves as invulnerable then they have the notion that they can do anything they want, and it is up to those who think as I do to make them fear us, to make them wish they had never been born.  Then, and only then, can true victory be achieved.

Two things stick out in my mind most while fighting the Taladorians.  The first was the raid on their logistics train, and the killing of those that our own bleeding hearts saw as "innocents."  Had they been innocent then they would have remained in Talador; they were part of an invading force and, as such, they bled, as they should have.  Did we massacre them?  I'm sure the people of Talador see it that way, even though I doubt anyone who says so has ever looked into the eyes of an orphaned child of Wehnimer's Landing.  Yes, we killed them, by the score.  No mercy was shown, as none was shown to our town by those same invading forces.  We did what we needed to do, nothing more, and nothing less.

The second was the raid on Talador in which Cosima, aka the Songbird, was taken prisoner.  This was, still is, and probably always will be, a very touchy topic, for myself and anyone who took part in this.  We all knew going into it, that this was an unpopular undertaking.  We also knew that our chances of success were not good.  What we did not know was that some members of our own town, people we had fought beside, would take it upon themselves to attempt to stop us.  This was the only part of this raid that sickened me; to know that people I had bled with, and for, were fighting against us and, in my opinion, aiding the enemy.

Drangell later burnt Cosima alive; I tried so hard to end her misery with one well-placed arrow, but, it was not to be, and her screams went on, and they still do when my dreams come.

I regret neither action; I believe both hastened the war to a speedier end, which ultimately saved lives, on both sides. 

After we defeated Talador, we were a broken town; not only was the town shattered, but so were old alliances.  We had more factions than we had broken buildings it seemed; there was no unity whatsoever.  Our one unifying aspect, our leader, Walkar Wellington was gone; turned into some sort of demonic being after he burned the army of Talador to ash.  His loss hurt me, I respected the man Walkar was; and I shall carry his memory with me always.

While our town was still reeling from our "victory," we had to deal with the Shadows and the being known as Althedeus.  Honestly, the things that happened to me, and to those who are closest to me, I would rather forget.  My mind was nearly broken, I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained, and I made mistakes that I would not have ordinarily made. 

During the war I had prayed so much and so often to my deity, but there was never a reply; that I suppose I gave up on ever getting an answer, so I ended up taking matters into my own hands.  It seemed to me that the answer was in the power of blood, and this was proven to me again and again throughout the war.  I guess that was the beginnings of my quest for the legacy, my heritage if you will, even though I didn't know it at the time.

Elithain Cross, who, as it turns out, was a powerful blood mage, held an amount of appeal to me.  He was promising to make sure that Wehnimers Landing was free from the influence of the Empire and at this stage in my life I probably hated the Empire more than I had ever before.  So I decided to join with Cross, but it was stressed to me that I needed to be protected and that I could never allow him to have any of my blood.

An aspiring bloodmagess in the Landing offered her services to protect me from the power of blood magic that may be wielded against me by Cross.  In a blood magic ritual she bonded Phever and I with the power of blood and love, two of the most potent forces that exist; I was effectively given the most powerful protection available, so long as my blood remained my own.

I went when Cross called, I was well on my way to joining the ranks of those who oppose the Empire, or so I thought.  When we all gathered to pledge our loyalty, Cross demanded a tribute, to be paid with our blood.  I refused, which was probably the smartest thing I have ever done in my entire life.  I was immediately cast out and from that point on I was regarded by those who followed Cross as a traitor to their cause and as unreliable and untrustworthy by those who defended Wehnimer's Landing.

For a while I was nearly totally without allies…it was a very difficult time for me, though not as bad as after the Griffin Sword Wars.  I continued to fight though, I still had my own honour, and I remained unstained by any blood oath.

Then the unthinkable happened…Cross took Phever.  Not only did he take her, he maimed her and used her blood to raise minions that did his bidding.  Phever, the love of my life, had been taken from me, and I was powerless to stop it, and I couldn't get her back.  Her plight was projected into my mind, I heard her screams, and I felt her pain as if it were my own. 

On that night, Elithain Cross broke me, just as sure as if he had done those things to me instead of Phever.  He took my will to fight and frankly, I didn't care anymore.  I thought of myself as being ineffective and I played the part very well.  How could I protect the town when I couldn't even keep the one who means more to me than life itself safe?  To add insult to injury, the followers of Cross were as welcome in town, perhaps even more so, than I was.

This went on for weeks, and each and every time I saw Phevers face, those scars, I was reminded of my failure…and the self-loathing grew.  I became erratic, even more than I had been in the past.  I cared little for anything, I couldn't even muster enough emotion to swear vengeance against Cross; I wanted to die.

They say that time heals all wounds.  Well I can tell you from experience; that's a whole wagonload of Yierka dung.  Time only made me hurt more and I sank deeper and deeper into despair.

Somewhere in all this Althedeus was defeated, but not before the Shadows had done their worst to me.  My mind was invaded, and neither my body nor my soul was my own anymore; but I didn't care.  The same thought kept echoing repeatedly in my mind.  I was a failure.  I was a failure.  I was a failure.

Then my own race saved me from myself and, more importantly, restored Phever to her former grace and beauty.  Teuriz was a bloodmage of great power.  He was also Tehir, like me.  His name means "godless" in the language of my people.  Through a blood magic ritual, using my blood drawn by one of my own arrows, he restored Phevers physical perfection and then he gave me back my faith in myself.

I still carry the scar from that ritual and I have the arrow he used, which was transformed by the process into a very unique arrow, which I shall never part with.  A very welcome side affect of the ritual was that, for a short time, Phever had the ability to speak and understand Tehir and I was able to express my feelings to her in my own language, which I am quite eloquent in, rather than my own fractured common.  For these gifts, I will be eternally grateful to the Tehir bloodmage.

Because of the touch of this bloodmage, or perhaps due to the encroachment of the shadows upon my mind, or a bit of both, a new want began stirring within me.  My birthmother had been a powerful bloodmage and seer among my people.  As her direct descendent it was up to me to assume the legacy of her bloodline.  I had spent years denying my birthright, because of fear more than anything else.  I didn't want this burden; I felt it wasn't mine to be saddled with.

But after my encounter with Teuriz, or perhaps because of it, I began to desire more to my life.  During the ceremony with Teuriz he told me to "hear the wind".  Soon after the ritual I began to hear whispers, very faint and most of the time unintelligible, but there nonetheless.  As time went on they began to get louder and I could distinguish the words more plainly.

One day, soon after hearing the wind truly speak to me, I made the decision that will forever change my life.  I rummaged through all my storage lockers in every town until I found it…my mothers kit, including her scrying bowl.  I had not seen it in years; it was buried deep in my locker in Icemule Trace. 

The decision has been made.  I will travel to the land of my birth and seek out one who will teach me all I need to know of my duty to my people and my legacy given to me by my mother.  I will become that which it seems I was always meant to be; I will become a seer and a bloodmage.

My training was difficult and tiresome; there were times when I didn't think I'd be able to endure it.  But somehow I did and I returned home to Wehnimers Landing a changed man. 

During one of my earliest attempts at scrying using my mothers bowl, I somehow was exposed to her spirit.  I am sure it was her power that made this happen, I am far from being that powerful.  During this "encounter," she relieved me of my burden of vengeance for our people.  She gave me my life back; I could now live my own life without feeling the need to decimate anything relating to the Empire when I encountered it.

I am Tehir, and now, I am free.

General Radeek Andoran
Black Raider of the Mir'Sheq
Drakes Vanguard
Defender of Wehnimers Landing

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Radeeks Complete Ongoing Evolution


The Seer and the Acolyte

The air is heavy with the scent of incense that slowly smolders within the six censures hanging from the poles that support the camel hide tent.  The flaps of the tent have been raised, allowing the cool of the night inside.

"It is time," said the one clothed in crimson.  The other women in the tent look to her to continue with her thoughts.  She closes her eyes, deep in concentration, as her blood, running from a cut in the palm of her hand, continues to drip into the copper chalice that sits in front of her upon the morduska hide meditation mat.  In her right hand, she holds a grey ironwood sacrificial dagger set with pale moonstones; the blade, darkened with her blood, glistens dully in the dim light from the few burning candles inside the tent.  Another woman, covered from head to toe in azure, the acolyte to the crimson clothed one, binds her hand with a clean linen bandage.

"Iebri Tzi'fizum, Zevib zhi Zome.  La Qyeke, la yuvi, la huid, la qua, loji u'tufi" (I am she who Sees, A Sister of the Sand.  My Blood, my life, my power, my body, I offer in trade) intones the woman in crimson, in the Tehir language.  The other women in the tent softly chant "Qyeke uz huid" (Blood is power) continuously, in unison.

The crimson robed Seer reaches into a sun-streaked braided leather satchel that rests in the sand beside her, brings forth a scrying bowl, and places it beside the chalice.  She removes a silver flask from the satchel and fills the bowl with water.  She places the flask back into the satchel and brings forth a long fossilized talon, which she dips into the chalice holding her blood.  She holds the talon over the scrying bowl, allowing a single drop of her blood to drip from the talon into the water.  She passes the talon off to her acolyte, who holds the talon in the flame of a candle, cleaning it, purifying it.

The Seers hands begin to twist and turn over the scrying bowl, her fingers weaving mystical symbols of power, as she recites "Blood is Power, Power is Life, Blood is Life.  I call forth the power of my blood, my will shall control the power, and my spirit will walk within the power.  I will see!"

The Seer grips the bowl with both hands, peering intently into the depths.  "I would see him, I would know him, I must see him, I must know him" she chants to the bowl in her hands.  "Reveal him to me!" she shouts at the bowl, "Show him to me, I must know!"  Blood begins to trickle from the seers nose; she pays no heed to the blood, seemingly unaware of everything except the bowl before her.

The water in the bowl begins to feebly glow with a soft violet light, dimly illuminating the Seers face.  She quietly chants repeatedly, in Tehir, "Blood is power, power is life, blood is life" 

As she stares intently into the scrying bowl her eyes narrow... then, suddenly, her eyes open wide and she releases an agonizing scream into the air.  She falls backward onto the meditation mat, convulsions wracking her body, the spasms causing her to knock over the bowl, spilling the water onto the ground inside the tent, where it is quickly absorbed by the desert sand.

Blood pours from the seer's nose, eyes, and ears as her screams echo across the sands.  Her acolyte rushes to her and kneels at her side, taking the seers head into both her hands.  "Q'atild, you must return from the spirit world!" she yells to the seer.  "Follow my voice, heed my words, and return to this path.  You must return, for your people, for your son!"

The seer stares ahead, unseeing, uncomprehending, her eyes seeing something no one else sees, her body feeling what no one else feels, her soul experiencing what no one else experiences.  Her acolyte slaps the crimson clad woman across the face, hard, and blood spatters the sand.

The seer blinks, returning from that distant place that she had travelled to.  Her tears begin to flow then, mixing with the blood upon her face.  Her acolyte brings fresh linens and pours a bowl of clean water; dipping the linens into the bowl, she uses them to clean the blood from her mentor. 

The seer is visibly weakened by her experience, and her hands shake uncontrollably.  A woman approaches bearing a cup of tea, which the seer gratefully accepts.  The seer sips at the tea, fighting to control the spasms in her hands, trying to recover from her experience.  Her lower lip quivers visibly, but she maintains her resolve.

She moves to sit up but the room spins and she lies back down.  A number of large pillows are brought for her and she is propped up on these, allowing her full view of the assembled women.  "I have seen," she says in a voice weakened by the experience but which retains a measure of authority and determination.  "I have seen that which I asked to see, but that which no mother should have to bear witness to."

She takes another sip of her tea and with a clean piece of dry linen she wipes the sweat from her brow, continuing, "I have seen the future of my son, and I have seen those things which will forever shape him.  I have seen his pain and his loss, but I have also seen his joys and his triumphs... and I have seen his love."

The women listen closer as the young seer continues, her viridian-swirled twilight grey eyes meeting each of them in turn, silently thanking them for their participation in this event that meant so much to her.  "My son will be always alone, and troubled.  He will deny his calling and his birthright.  He will be bathed in blood and surrounded by darkness, his path, though it will make him strong, will lead him to shadow."

The Seer motions her acolyte over and whispers something in her ear.  The acolyte leaves the tent and strides away into the darkness.  "My son will have happiness, but the cost will be high.  He will suffer, as will those he loves, and he will be marked, in both body and spirit, for that suffering.  He will only know peace after living the torment of war, and he will embrace love only after hating with all his heart and soul.  His love for the woman will be strong, she will return that love, and he will answer the calling."

The acolyte returns with a small polished bloodwood bowl containing a thin broth that smells of various herbs and roots.  The Seer accepts the bowl with a nod of thanks and takes a small sip, testing the warmth, before consuming more.  After finishing the meager contents of the bowl, the Seer passes the empty container back to her acolyte.

A woman among the group asks the Seer, "When will he be told?"  The Seer frowns slightly at this question, but she answers, "There will be an end that signals a beginning, he will pass through blood, death, and smoke, he will be told then, and I will tell him."

The acolyte then addresses the group of women at large, saying, "Q'atild has had a very difficult spirit walk.  Please, excuse her, she needs her rest."  The women leave, only the acolyte remaining to tend to her instructor. 

Q'atild looks at her acolyte and says to her, "You have worn the azure well, and you are a fine acolyte, but I can teach you no more, K'miza."  The crimson seer studies her acolyte, and says to her, "I know why you wished to learn the gift of sight, you have been unable to bear any living children to your husband, and you wish to know if you ever will." 

K'miza gasps in surprise, but nods almost imperceptibly.  Q'atild continues, "You have kept secret your identity to all the people of this clan, you have worn the veils, and none know who you truly are, except me.  You will not become a Seer, K'miza; you will be much more.  You will return to your husband, you will burn your veils, and you shall be a mother to one son.  You and your husband, G'Arrone, will raise that son into manhood, you both will teach him all that you know... and you will love him."

"I must rest now K'miza, and so should you, for when the sun sets tomorrow you must leave here... you must go home," Q'atild says to her acolyte, to her friend.  "You will be a good mother, K'miza, I have seen it."

Radeek's Backstory, The Beginning

I'm awake…should I open my eyes?  Something is on me, it's heavy, and the weight makes it hard to breath; though I smell smoke, and something... else.  It is a cloying scent, metallic, it is the smell of death; a lot of death.  I taste sand, not an unfamiliar taste, since I am Tehir and this is, after all, the Sea of Fire, my home, my people, and my life.  I feel wetness on my back; it's sticky and smells of copper.  It's day; I know this because I can feel the heat of the sun on my exposed arm.  I open my eyes, feeling fear and doing my best to choke it down, very hard to do for a seven-year-old boy.  I see crimson before my eyes, crimson muslin.  My mother wears crimson, which, as a Seer, is her right to do so. 

I am confused and afraid.  Why do I see this?  I have to get up, I'm beginning to panic, and I can't breath!  What is this weight holding me down?  I wriggle and squirm... the weight rolls off my back and I'm free.  Panting, drawing the searing air of the rapidly warming dawn into my lungs, I stand.  I look down at my feet and see my mother looking back at me, staring right through me; and her eyes are... wrong.  She's not squinting against the sun.  I have seen death before and deep down in my heart I know that death is what is looking back at me.  The Tehir know death and understand it for what it is, the end of all.  It is not to be feared and there are those who seek it, willingly.  My mother is dead.  I know this to be true, the broken lance I see sticking from her belly is simply another means of confirmation.

I will not cry....  I will not show that weakness.  I am of the people.  I am Tehir.  I am Radeek Andoran, son of Q'atild, first seer among the Mir'sheq, she who has foreseen my destiny.  This... this is not it. 

I...will...not...cry.  I hold back my tears.  I look around and I see nothing but destruction; wanton and total.  I hear nothing except the slight wind that will soon disappear as the heat rises.  Only silence greets my ears.  This seems odd to me, as Tehir camps are normally rather loud places.  I see, as I have been taught to see.  The details, the nuances, the carnage. I see the dead Imperial knight, crushed under the weight of his warhorse.  I see my people, massacred; the sand is stained with the blood of Tehir and Imperial.  My camp, my home, my people, all is gone.  My life is over.  I will die here, but I know and accept this, no one my age survives the Sea of Fire alone.  I have not undergone the Trials; I am not yet a man.  I have not learned how to survive alone here; I am as dead as if I were struck down with a sword.  Would that I had been, death would be much quicker.  But I am Tehir; death comes to us all in our time, as it shall come for me.  Soon.  I am Tehir.

Wait!  I hear something... a sound.  Listen... there it is again!  Perhaps I am not alone.  I stalk the camp, slowly, silently, as I have been taught to move.  I hear it again, closer this time.  It's coming from inside what is left of a burned tent.  Quiet as a shadow I inch closer to the remains of the tent.  I see her.  It's Va'mek, a young woman of thirteen years.  Our eyes meet.  Hers so very green and full of pain, mine are grey and full of fear.  I go to her and kneel at her side.  She is so badly burned, the smell of her blackened flesh makes my stomach rise into my throat, but I do not look away.  I am Tehir. 

She cannot speak, her pain so intense that it is all encompassing as her eyes plead with me.  She glances at the Yierka spur on my belt and back to my eyes.  It's not a full sized mans weapon, just a child's tool, but sharp nonetheless and it is enough.  She whimpers, in such pain and agony and looks again from my belt to my eyes.  I know what she wants.  I know what she desires.  Slowly, I draw my weapon.  I am Tehir. 

She looks at me and I sense her understanding, and acceptance of fate.  I close my eyes for a moment, drawing the courage to do what must be done.  I have never killed before; I have not undergone the Trials.  I am not a man; I have not earned the right to kill.  Quickly, before I lose what little nerve I have, I open her wrists with my blade.  I am Tehir. 

She utters no sound.  My eyes are locked with hers.  I see gratitude there, and a solemn grace, as she knows the end is near.  Our eyes are one and we see each other as we are, in a moment that seems to last for an eternity.  I see her, brave, nearing death.  She sees me, young, alone, afraid.  I see her end.  She sees and feels no more.  My last act is to close her eyes against the rapidly warming sun.  I will not cry.  I am Tehir.

Something within me begs to be set free; I feel it smouldering within me.  My yierka spur is still in my hand; I find the body of a knight.  I will not describe what I did, for I remember little of it.  I do remember being covered in blood when I finished.  It was rage within me; a fiery need, primal and violent.  Vengeance.  It will remain with me, always, just beneath the surface, raging, carnal, and dangerous.  I am Tehir, and now I am something... more.

Dust on the horizon; they return.  My end has come but I do not fear this; I am Tehir.  But it is not Imperial knights, come to finish what they started.  These men are Tehir.  These men are Raiders.  They approach cautiously.  I stand, alone, putting my yierka spur into my belt, my arms at my side, palms facing them, empty, the traditional Tehir greeting of peace. 

The leader dismounts and approaches me as he surveys the area, a look of disgust on his face.  He approaches me and utters one word in Tehiri, "Alone?".  I nod, afraid to speak, afraid that maybe he's not real, but he is.  He beckons me to approach and when I do, he hands me a skin of water.  I drink, sparingly, as I have been taught.  I am Tehir.  Respectfully, I return the skin.  The Raider kneels before me and looks me up and down, then rises, turns, and nods to his men.  A rider-less horse is brought forward and I am told to mount.  This I do with ease.  I am Tehir.

We ride for many nights, resting by day.  I learn the names of the raiders.  The leader is called G'Arrone.  Normally his wife, K'miza, accompanies him, but she is recovering from giving birth to a third stillborn child.  G'Arrone's weapon of choice is the longbow and I later learn he is considered the best archer among the Tehir of the region, which is unusual in itself, since normally Tehir are not overly fond of bows.  There is also B'dur, the horsemaster.  Wovur and his sisters husband, Huwvid, both excellent with the Takouba.  Haszour, the silent one; he could stalk a shadow and kill it without making a sound.  Bophwaz, he is the master of the desert, and the one who determines when Tehir males are to take the Trials.  Others there are, of various skills and arts.

We reach their encampment, which is within an oasis, a place not unlike that which I knew...before.  I dismount and stand, not moving, afraid to draw attention to myself; I know what to expect.  I will be judged, and I will be found either worthy, or unworthy.  If I am deemed worthy I will be as a slave, but I will live.  If it is decided I am unworthy I will be marked and cast out.  If I survive, I will be forever outcast among the people.  At this point in my young mind, I am accepting of either verdict.  I see my life as already over.  G'Arrone bids me follow him. 

We enter a tent, which I recognize as a bathing tent.  Tehir regularly bathe when camping at an oasis.  Tehir are very clean people, which usually comes as a surprise to most outsiders.  Two young girls are ordered to assist me.  The water is crisp and cool on my skin.  The soap from the roots of a desert plant has a clean and refreshing scent.  When I am clean, I am given new clothes to wear, all of earthy colors, various shades of grey and brown.  All rough linen.  I am accustomed to this attire.  I am Tehir.

I am then escorted to G'Arrone's tent, where six other men attend.  All are elders within this tribe of Tehir; their names for this telling are unimportant, although their decision is not.  I am ordered to sit, and I do, mustering as much dignity as a seven year old, newly orphaned boy can.  I am asked my name, which is the proper manner of introduction between Tehir; it is considered a slight if someone introduces you rather than naming yourself.  There are exceptions to this, especially when dealing with outsiders, but not within the Tehir community.  A man's name is his own to give, or not. 

I give them my name, along with my matronymic, my mothers lineage.  This raises a few eyebrows, as my mother is, was, very well known among the Tehir for her sight.  I am questioned about the attack on my camp, but I remembered very little that actually happened.  I have very clear memories of the time before that attack, and everything after, but nothing of it, except the sound of hooves, like thunder.  This, I have been told, is somewhat common in cases like this. A discussion begins, of which I am obviously the center of attention.  I feel fear.  I will not show it.  I am Tehir.

After what seemed like an eternity, the discussion dies down and G'Arrone stands and looks at me.  He draws a short, wicked dagger and beckons me to him.  I rise, slowly, and walk to stand before him.  He intones a Tehiri ritual, which I recognize as the Rite of Being.  "Eizh Toork Fiier, Biedi Fikim Gtiere Eord Hoerda, Ame Kua."  Translated into the common tongue, "By this rite I take this man-child to raise as my son into manhood, my blood."  He then takes the dagger, carves a small mark beside my left eye, and rubs a small amount of wood ashes into the wound.  The pain is intense, but I utter no sound.  My first scar, I belong again, I am no longer alone.  I am Tehir.


The years pass and I grow, both older and stronger.  I am twelve now.  My second-mother K'miza has been unable to bear any living children, so she dotes on me.  I am the apple of her eye.  My second-father G'Arrone has been teaching me the bow.  He says I am a fine archer already and will rival and perhaps even surpass him one day.  I find this difficult to believe, he is just that good.  

The years have been good to our clan, our wealth abounds, and there has been little need to raid.  The exception to this is the bride raid, but these are more for sport or to win the attentions of a woman.  As I have not been through the trials yet, I have not been allowed to participate, but I feel I am ready.  As each day passes, I think less and less of the past and look more to the days ahead of me.  Life here, while always difficult, has not been without pleasure and joy; I am content with my existence.  I am Tehir.


I am three months from fifteen now.  I have just been informed that tomorrow I will begin the first of my trials.  They will be ongoing and continuous for the next fifteen months.  If I fail, I will not receive all my scars and that will be the end of my progression through the trials; I will be forever at that level in Tehir society.  My second-mother is worried; I can tell, though she takes great pains to hide this fact from me.  I love her dearly and though she does not carry the status of my birth-mother she has always done what is best for me to the utmost of her abilities, which in their own rights are considerable.  My second-father has spent the morning with Bophwaz, having tea and a sometimes-heated discussion.  I have a feeling this is about my Trials, but I dare not interrupt.  This will be my last day as a child.  Though I have received my scars for first kill and first night, I have always been a child in the eyes of the Tehir.  For better or worse, all this changes tomorrow.  Though I am apprehensive, I have no fear.  I am Tehir.

(For both secrecy about Tehir Tribal Ritual Trials and the length of this already long post, I have elected to not divulge the Tehir Trials of Manhood)

It is now the day before my last trial.  I have been through so very much, and I proudly bear the scars to prove it.  Though not officially a man yet, I feel the looks upon me when I walk by, especially from the young women of marriage age.  It appears that I will have little trouble finding a mate.  Of course this is normally true in Tehir society; it has always been much easier to find a mate, quite another to keep one.  My secondfather has not spoken to me this day, which troubles me greatly.  This is most unlike him.  While men are not permitted to divulge anything about the Trials to one who either is going through, or has not yet undergone them, we've always managed some small talk on the first day of a Trial.  Something is different today.  My secondmother has been crying, and I don't know why.  She will not speak of it, but when I look at her she averts her eyes and begins to weep again.  I do not question her of this.  I am Tehir.

At dusk, Bophwaz comes to get me.  He takes me to the Elders Tent.  Once inside I am asked to sit, at the place of highest honor.  My secondfather is there, but he will not meet my eyes with his.  That is painful to me.  Have I done something to displease him?  I can think of nothing.  A drinking bowl is placed in front of me and I am told to drink deeply.  It has a strong flavour, not unpleasant, but not pleasing either.  I finish the entire bowl, knowing it is rude to not at least pretend to enjoy that which is offered you.  I immediately begin to feel a strange sense, as if I am no longer within my own body.  It is as if I am outside myself, looking in.  I feel strange sensations and hear strange sounds.  Battle sounds, thundering hooves, screams of the dying and the victorious battle cries, of both Tehir and Empire.  I hear the sharp crack of a breaking lance, and I suddenly feel a crushing weight upon me.

I hear my mothers voice in my ear.  Not my second mother, K'Miza, but my birthmother, the renowned seer, Q'atild.  She speaks, softly, the breathy whispers of the dying, "Radeek Andoran of the Mir'sheq, my son, death you shall become, and death shall follow you all your days.  Vengeance will be your calling, for only in this shall you find comfort.  Glory you shall neither seek nor find, for it is but a false calling.  Merciless destruction of your enemies, the Empire, will be your unending goal, and you will rain vengeance upon them from afar."

"Accept and embrace this fate of which I speak," she continues, her voice weakening.  "For into greatness you were born, and in greatness you shall be known among your peers; grieve not for me, or your people, but avenge us.  You will seek the wild dog of the moon, and you will relish in her power and loyalty.  Become what you were meant to be.  Let none turn you aside this path I have seen for you."

"You will walk the path alone, in times of peace and many, many wars, killing with cunning and stealth, until you meet the raven-haired one who will see past the scars you shall receive.  She will bring to you a peace you have never known.  You must place your trust in this woman, love her for all time and then, and only then, will you find joy and happiness.  And always remember, my son, you are, and always shall be, Tehir".  I am Tehir.

I woke late the next morning to sun and oppressive heat.  My head was spinning, and it hurt to sit up.  Silence greets my listening ears, a sound all too familiar to me.  Am I truly awake?  Or am I living a dream, a nightmare?  I rub my eyes.  Yes, I'm quite awake, but something is very wrong.  I rise and see nothing around me.  My clan has gone, without me; I have been abandoned.  I feel a slight sting on the left side of my face.  I reach up and touch... my last scar.  I have passed all my trials, and yet my people have abandoned me.  I hastily check to see if I have any mutilations or if any of my teeth have been removed, this is common practice for the Tehir when casting an individual out, it marks the person for all time as an outcast and no Tehir in their right mind will accept such a burden.  But no, I have all my teeth, and with the exception of my final scar, I have no other fresh marks.  But I am truly alone.  I am Tehir.

I see a bundle a short distance away.  I approach it and see it's a pack and supplies.  On top is a letter written in charcoal on a buttery soft Yierka hide.  It is from my secondparents.  Only my secondmother could write, G'Aronne, my secondfather never learned how.  The letter had these words written upon it, which I later paid a scribe to read to me, for I have only recently learned my letters:

My son, you know now what you are to become, this is a rare gift for one as young as you; most go through life's trials never knowing their purpose.  Your fathers' purpose and mine was to raise you to manhood and this we have done, the best that we knew how.  It grieves us both to leave you, but your path is no longer that of the clans, and we have left you everything you could need or want; your father demanded that we include his most powerful longbow and a good supply of his best arrows.  Use them well on your quest for vengeance.  He told me to tell you that you have become the better archer between yourselves.  Believe in yourself, for few will in your travels.  The path will be dark and forbidding, but it is yours to walk.  We know you will do what you feel is right. 

Radeek, my son, I know I am not your birth mother, but I have always loved you as my own.  I am proud of you, my son.  Know this as well... you are the first to pass all the Trials of Manhood in nine generations.  Carry your scars with pride, they are who you are.  You have earned them and brought great honour to your father and I by doing so.  Walk with the sun, and may you fare well Radeek Andoran of the Mir'sheq.  You are Tehir. 
K'Miza and G'Aronne

I am Tehir

During the rest of the travels of my youth I've done many things, most of which are not worth mentioning here.  All the while, I would kill the occasional Imperial.  I learned common, or what I use that passes for it, at the knee of a teamster who moved trade goods between the Tehir and the Empire.  I did not know until later that the man had been hit with a mace while a soldier, which shattered his jaw.  It affected his speech accordingly; hence my rather thick accent and subsequent butchering of the common language.  But he treated me well and I learned a lot of the ways of the Empire and beyond.  I learned and became more.  I am Tehir.

When I reached my late teens I began to yearn for more; I began travelling the lands.  I had heard of the free town of Wehnimer's Landing in a brothel in Talador so I decided to go there and try my luck.  I arrived in the Landing, as the locals call it, and immediately felt more at home than anywhere since my youth with the clan.  I travelled to Icemule Trace from there and joined a group called The Northern Fury, where I served with some excellent people, honed my combat skills and learned how to lead groups of people in combat.  I am content with my existence.  I am Tehir... and something more.


I had been there almost a full month, and I was so afraid.  I was seven years of age, my mother was gone, killed by Knights of the Empire, I was in a strange camp surrounded by strangers, and I was alone.  I feared to go to sleep for I knew what I would see when I closed my eyes.  I was so very tired. 

G'Arrone, the man who adopted me, terrified me, though I tried very hard to not show it.  There had never been a man residing in my tent before; I never knew my real father, my birth-mother never spoke of him, so having a man around all the time was very different for me.  G'Arrone was a large man, very tall and well built, in the prime of his life and very intimidating with his scars.  He was also quite loud at times, even though I believed most of it to be just for fun.  He loved K'Miza, my adoptive mother, very much and it almost seemed as though he lived only to make her laugh.

K'Miza knew I was afraid and she took measures to try to keep G'Arrone from being too boisterous.  She spoke to me frequently and it was only polite for me to answer her, though my answers were little more than what were necessary, and nothing more.  I was well fed and very well cared for, I knew this, but I was still uneasy in my new surroundings. 

I had been in numerous fights with other Tehir children; everyone wanted to test the new arrival.  Sometimes I won, most times not, for I had never been taught how to fight, but I never backed down, never quit.  Numerous times I had come home bloodied and bruised and my second-mother would pay little attention to me, other than to hand me a wet piece of linen to clean myself up with.

My second-father knew I was having difficulty and he pulled me aside one day and asked me what I was afraid of.  My answer was quite simple.  "Everything," I said, "I'm afraid of everything."  G'Arrone looked me straight in the eyes and told me something I'll never forget.  "Radeek," he said, "fear lives within everyone, all the time, every second of every minute of every day.  We can rule fear, or we can let it rule us, but the choice belongs to us, not fear."  After that conversation, I learned very quickly to win, at all costs, to hold nothing back, to answer any challenge with violence, and to never, ever, quit.

When my second-father G'Arrone saw this, he began to teach me how to fight, and fight to win, to make use of whatever was close by and make it a weapon.  Very soon thereafter, after my opponents many visits to the tent of the healers, the challenges stopped and I rarely ever fought again, unless it was for sport or the cause was just.  I was accepted among my peers, the other children of the camp. 

My training at the knee of my second-father did not stop, however.  G'Arrone was very good at teaching the martial skills and he told me I was an apt pupil.  I learned the deadly skills of the Tehir, bare hand combat, the use of the yierka spur, and G'Arrone taught me the art of the bow, and make no mistake... it is indeed an art. 

As time passed I no longer feared G'Arrone.  I grew to respect him, and indeed, love him.  G'Arrone is, for all intents and purposes, my father.  This goes far beyond his willingness to adopt me as his own and the sharing of our blood to seal this pact, which is more than enough in the eyes of the Tehir.  G'Arrone understood me, he always knew what it took to get the best out of me, he would push me far beyond what I thought I could accomplish.  G'Arrone is the reason I am WHAT I am. 

By that same token K'Miza, my second-mother, is why I am those things I never would have been, why I am WHO I am.  After my birth-mothers death and until Phever came into my life, K'Miza was one of the very few people to ever show me that what I am is not all I could be.  K'Miza, like Phever, never judged me and never questioned my actions and she always supported me.  She would tell me when I was wrong, not to correct me, but to tell me there may have been another, better option; she taught me to look before I leapt, to consider as many options as I could before making a decision.  People who call me rash, quick to anger, or bloodthirsty have no idea how quickly decisions come and go in my head, weighed, considered, thought through and either discarded or accepted.  She taught me to always try to see beyond the obvious; I owe this skill to K'Miza.

I remember once, I had been with my new camp and family for about a year and K'Miza followed me into the dunes behind our camp.  I had been having a difficult time, K'Miza was always good at knowing when I was troubled; I was frustrated at the feeling I had of being helpless during the raid that killed my birth-mother, a feeling which to this very day still resides in the back of my mind.  K'Miza sat down in the sand with me and told me to think through my options, what I felt I should have done.  Being the eight year old I was I of course told her a tale of my bravery, about how I would have picked up a Takouba of a fallen Tehir raider and used it to carve my way through the ranks of the Imperial Knights.  The corners of her mouth turned up in a slight but motherly indulgent smile, and she asked me if I thought that I could even pick up and swing a Takouba with enough force to kill an armored knight, much less reach that high since the knights were mounted on horses.  Even at eight, I could see her reasoning.  She then told me that I had done all that I either could or should have done.  I was alive.  Had I done anything else I surely would not be and my birth-mothers sacrifice would have been for naught.  It was the way of it.

My herblore, foraging, and skinning skills I also owe to K'Miza.  She was also a better than average tracker, and sometimes she heard the wind speak.  I've always felt that K'Miza knew more about me than I ever did myself.  I honestly believe that she knew my destiny long before I ever began to have inklings of what course my life would take.  It was K'Miza who told me life was limitless, there are no boundaries, and that if we wanted something badly enough and were willing to work hard enough that we could be anything we wanted to be, do anything we chose to do, and do it well.  She always said life wasn't worth a lame Yierka if we didn't live it, and live it to the fullest.  She was right about that, and a great many other things.

My second-parents were my first exposure to love.  Of course, my birth-mother loved me, enough to die so that I might live, but the love between a man and a woman were unknown to me before K'Miza and G'Arrone.  The love between the two of them was stronger than just about any I had ever seen since and I am thankful that I have that same love in my life now, with Phever.  I am certain that my second-parents would approve of her.  K'Miza once told me that there would be a woman in my life one day and that I would feel it if she were right for me or not.  I only understood this the day that Phever entered my life; I knew it the very first time she spoke to me, that very second.  Of course, I now know that my birth-mother, Q'atild Andoran, saw Phever in a vision many years before, and I am comforted by this.  It is as if she gave me her blessing as she lay dying, her life's blood pouring into the sand, her life ending as mine was just beginning.

My second-parents, unlike my birth-mother, were nothing overly special.  They were regular, everyday people leading normal, benign lives.  They were good people who believed that their greatest strength lay in their family, friends, and clan.  G'Arrone was a well respected Raider and K'Miza was very good in the healing arts and other more mundane things.  Neither carried the status of my birth-mother, but even so they had enough status of their own that I was assured of a mate of very good standing, even without the status of my birth-mother behind me. 

Some Tehir parents can be very involved in who their children marry.  G'Arrone had already begun to trade and raid to increase K'Miza's herds and wealth.  He intended to pay a high bride price to assure I was wed to a woman of high standing.  K'Miza I think always knew I wouldn't wed in the Sea of Fire, but she never let her feelings be known to myself or G'Arrone.  From the time I was twelve or thirteen and nearing the age for my Trials to begin G'Arrone was already beginning to put out feelers to the families of prospective brides for me, and K'Miza never hindered him in this, but looking back I now see she didn't take as large a part in this as the mother normally does.  She knew something of my future; of this, I have no doubt.

But G'Arrone, and to a lesser extent K'Miza, kept up the wheeling, dealing, and bargaining that are part of the negotiations between families for marriages, and to his credit, and my future enjoyment, G'Arrone felt it important that the woman should be beautiful.  This of course raised the bride price of any potential mate for me, but G'Arrone was bound and determined to see me properly wed to a woman of high status and looks to match.  Looking back I find this, well, amusing, yes, but also quite gratifying, and I am indebted to G'Arrone and K'miza even though I never wed and their efforts went for naught.

It never ceases to amaze me how well they raised me, how much effort they put into my training and my teaching, how they molded me and gave me opportunities I would not normally have had.  Were it not for them, pushing me to go further, to think, to learn, to become who and what I am today I can almost guarantee I would have been dead long ago.  I consider them my parents, not my second-parents.  I owe them a debt I can never begin to repay, and I can only hope that they would be proud of me, of who I am and of what I have become, were they here.  Perhaps one day I will see them again and be able to tell them how very fortunate I've been, and to introduce them to the love of my life.  I believe both K'Miza and G'Arrone would adore Phever.


Yierkas and Spurs

The sun brightens the eastern horizon but has not yet driven off the cool chill of the rapidly ending night.  I have been up for quite some time, milking, and tending the goats belonging to my secondparents.  I am in my eighth year and this is one of my responsibilities, as it has been since K'miza and G'arrone adopted me just over a year ago.  I'm not very fond of goats, but I like everything we get from them.  Their milk I like in any form, consumed as is or made into yogurt or cheese.  Their hides can be used for many things: sandals, clothing, and shelter…the uses are nearly endless.  The stomachs and bladders are used as waterproof containers to either hold liquids or to boil those same liquids over hot coals.  Their intestines, after being thoroughly cleaned, are used to store fats or a mixture of fat, meat, and grain to make a kind of sausage which, when smoked, will keep for a very long time.  The meat can also be dried in the sun or over a smoky fire to preserve it.  Sometimes certain berries and some fat are pounded into the meat before drying.  This is called pemmican and is a very nutritious food, which keeps well and is superb as travelling fare.  The bones of the goat are of course used to make tools such as awls or knife handles and sometimes arrowheads or spear points.  The marrow is removed first since it is very valuable as a food source.  The bones can also be burned as fuel, if the fire is hot enough, or boiled with the hooves and hide scraps can be made into glue.  Tendons, pounded and separated into their individual strands are used as binding material, when applied wet they shrink as they dry and make a very tight binding.  Very little of the animal is not used for something.

I slept poorly last night, probably due to my excitement.  G'Arrone, my second-father, informed me before I went to bed that today he would begin to teach me of the Yierka.  I rush through the rest of my morning chores, barely able to contain myself.  I take the water skins to the natural spring in the centre of the oasis and fill them, gather some dates, get the fire going in the outside cooking hearth and start some water for tea, scrape the hides that are in the stretching frames to make them soft and then rub a mixture of animal brains and fat into them and place them in the smoke house.  This preserves them and turns them into leather.  My second-mother taught me how to do this.  Her leather turns out very soft and pliable but she says it takes a lot of work to make them that way.  The skins must be scraped and worked many times to make them soft.  If one wants hard leather for use in things like the soles of sandals or pieces of armour then the leather is boiled in oil.  This makes the leather very stiff and hard.

As I work, I think of Yierkas, the steed of choice of the raiders of my clan.  Although we have horses and camels, Yierkas are the beasts that are born and bred to the Sea of Fire and best suited for mounted warfare in the desert, and today I get to learn about them.  To ride the yierka and become a respected and feared raider is probably every Tehir boy's goal; I know it is mine.  I dream almost nightly of riding the beast into combat, my burnoose and veil flying in the wind, my warcry ringing loudly, carrying into the desert sands, my yierka carrying me to victory.

My second-mother, K'Miza, calls for me, breaking my reverie; it is time to break our fast.  We have a porridge made from the remnants of last nights supper, yogurt, cheese, the dates I gathered earlier, and tea.  This is our typical breakfast, not too filling, but enough to start the day.  My second-father eats very slowly this morning, savoring every bite and every sip of tea.  I've wolfed my meal down and sit, none too patiently, waiting for him to finish.  As he continues to eat I steal occasional glances his way and to my second-mother.  I can't stand this wait; time is dragging.  Finally, my second-mother says to him "G'Arrone, stop teasing the boy.  He's as anxious as a starving Morduska, and half as patient."  G'Arrone looks over at me and gives me a big grin and a laugh.  "Come on then Radeek" he says, "let's get this day started."  I bolt from the tent and am waiting for him as he comes out.

Together, as we walk towards the yierka pen, G'Arrone speaks to me of the yierka.  He tells me they are very unpredictable creatures and have a very bad disposition.  He states that to ride the yierka takes a special quality, one must be able to overcome the personality of the yierka, to never show fear of the animal and to always respect it.  G'Arrone tells me that yierkas have killed many Tehir who were either not prepared or not strong enough to command and ride them.  He also tells me that not all Tehir become riders of the beast, it's not a mount that everyone is destined to ride.  G'Arrone goes on to say that the greatness of a raider is due in no small part to his yierka; the meaner the yierka the greater the raider must be in order to control it.

I see the yierkas, large creatures, milling about the enclosure.  Only the largest and fiercest are chosen as mounts for combat, the rest become beasts of burden, pulling carts or bearing loads.  I ask G'Arrone which are his.  He gives a yell and five of the beasts, snorting and spitting, approach.  He shows me the mark that is borne by each of them... the symbol of an arrowhead painted in scarlet on the flank of the beast, the mark of G'Arrone.  There are very few yierkas here larger than his.  He tells me that these are his yierkas and that each has seen combat.  I reach out to touch one but he stops me.  "You are not ready yet" he says, "You are not to touch these beasts until you are."  He looks at me, with a kind of softness in his eyes that I rarely ever see.  "Radeek, you are my son, and though you are not of my bloodline we are bound by blood.  I speak as father to son, your time will come, but there is much for you to learn between now and then.  Until that time you will do only as I say where these beasts are concerned, do you understand?" 

"Yes Vozhib" (which means father in Tehir), I say to him, with as much pride as I can muster, "it will be as you say."

And so it was, we spent the remainder of that day and many more days for weeks and months after that with him teaching me of the yierka.  It wasn't an every day thing, but I treasured those times when he taught and I learned of the beast of the desert.  I was taught how to care for yierkas, I learned of the equipment used to ride and to control them, but most importantly, I was taught to respect them as the powerful creatures they are.  G'Arrone took great pains to teach me that yierkas are not pets, they are implements of warfare and should be treated accordingly.  I would practice on horses, which I already knew how to ride, then camels.  The signals used were nearly the same but as he kept telling me, the yierka needed a far firmer hand.  He taught, and I learned.

I was nearing my eleventh year when G'Arrone came to me one morning and bade me to follow him.  He had a package under his arm covered in a very well tanned and softened hide.  We approached the tent of Bophwaz, my clans Master of the Desert.  I have been to this tent many times to hear tales and learn the histories of my people; Bophwaz is a superb storyteller.  But today it is only my second-father and myself who Bophwaz has in his dwelling; even his wife is absent.  Bophwaz bids us to sit as he offers us both tea.  As we sip our tea my father speaks to me.  "Radeek, today is a very special day for you, a day you will remember always."  This puzzles me, but I am also excited.  I do not ask of what he speaks for to do so would be rude, although I find it very difficult to say nothing as I sit quietly and respectfully.

G'Arrone hands me the package he carried with him and bids me to open it.  I do so, barely able to contain my excitement.  As I work on the bindings of the package Bophwaz speaks to me of courage and honour, of being Tehir.  He tells me that to be fearless is not to be without fear, but to be able to control that fear, to put the fear aside and to do what must be done, regardless.  I get the package unwrapped and inside is the very last thing I expected to see, a complete tack kit for the riding of the yierka.  The wrapping was the saddle blanket; there is bit and bridle, various straps and belts, saddlebags... and a pair of spurred riding boots.  Tehir in my clan wear sandals almost exclusively, except to ride the yierka.  The boots denote a rider of the beast and those who do not ride the yierka ever wear them, for any reason. 

As I gaze disbelievingly at the boots in my hands G'Arrone tells me that my saddle is waiting at the enclosure and that if I wear the boots then I must ride the beast.  I am unsure of what to do but then I remember the words Bophwaz spoke about fear, and dealing with it.  I remove my sandals and don the boots.  G'Arrone, Bophwaz and I walk to the yierka enclosure, and there, placed on a large rock, is my saddle.  G'Arrone yells and his yierka approach.  There are a few more than when I was first brought here, his herd has grown.  He bids me to choose one from among them.  I may choose any one of them that are unbranded that suits me.  I look them over carefully.  I look for clarity of eye and an abundance of spirit.  In other words, I want the meanest one I can find.

I make my choice, not the largest, but a good-sized beast.  Both Bophwaz and G'Arrone nod in approval.  I enter the surround, bridle and blanket in one hand, saddle in the other, and approach the beast, our eyes locked on each other, neither of us looking away.  The yierka snorts at me, eyes glaring, and mouth foaming; I do not flinch or break my stride, though inside I am trembling.  I choke down my fear and continue walking towards the beast with what I hope is a confident step.  As I get close enough to the beast to feel its breath upon me, I say to the yierka, in a loud, firm voice, "Kruzhib Zome, Uodi Radeek Andoran, uodi lovid."  In common, this means, roughly, "Brother of the Sand, I am Radeek Andoran, I am your master."

I place the blanket and saddle in the sand then quickly place the bridle on the yierka and lead it to the edge of the surround where I tie it in place.  I then put blanket and saddle on it and quickly mount the beast.  It immediately begins to try to remove me from it's back.  Hurriedly I yank the reigns and use the spurs on my boots to attempt to gain control of the animal.  This is a battle of wills, and I do not intend to lose.  I squeeze my legs against the sides of the yierka with all my might and continue pulling on the reigns as hard as I can, keeping the head of the beast as low as possible.  My second-father and Bophwaz watch carefully but say nothing, this is between the rider and the mount, and they cannot interfere.

After what seems like an eternity, but was surely less than a minute or two, the yierka settles down.  I look over at the two men who are outside the enclosure and my second-father nods to me and motions me over.  I give the appropriate signal to my mount and it walks towards the men.  I dismount and tie the beast to the surround and my second-father tells me he will now mark the beast as belonging to me. 

He reaches into his satchel, removes paint and brush, and proceeds to mark the yierka.  When he finishes he motions to me to him and points to the mark he has placed upon the animal.  It is an arrowhead design exactly like his, but painted in black rather than scarlet.  He says to me, "Radeek, this will forever be your mark and will one day be the mark of your family.  The arrowhead denotes your attachment to me, as my son.  The color black shall be your color for it was the blackness of smoke that led me to you."  I thank G'Arrone, my father, who raised me as his own, who has taught me to ride and care for the yierka, and who has given me my first mount.

As G'Arrone said, I shall never forget this day.                 


The Sixteenth Trial

The small campfire has burned down to smouldering embers, the feeble glow dimly bathing the area in a blood colored light, which is somehow appropriate, and, oddly enough, strangely soothing to my soul.  The carcass of the selshis is suspended over the coals on a forked stick, softly crackling as the fat renders out of the meat, crisping the outside.  The skin that I removed earlier has been salted and is drying in a small stretching frame placed near the firepit, but far enough away to keep it from burning.  It will make a nice sheath or belt, or perhaps, with a few more skins, I will make a new satchel for my second-mother, K'miza; hers is beginning to wear thin in places.

I have been out here for just short of a fortnight, living off the land, surviving within the rules set by the Sea of Fire; there is always something new to learn.  Here, in this place that I call home, you learn, or you die, it is that simple.  There is little room for mistakes and very few second chances; the Sea of Fire is merciless and unforgiving.

I am two moons into my fifteenth year and in the midst of my sixteenth trial of manhood, called Biedi Zom, or, in common, the Trial of the Sun.  I wear the scars given for completion of my previous fifteen trials upon the left side of my face, beginning just over my left eyebrow they are so numerous and interconnected that they now extend nearly to my jawline.  I am proud of my scars; they are who and what I am.  I am Radeek Andoran of the Mir'sheq...I am Tehir.

I remove the selshis from the fire and begin to eat.  It is succulent and delicious and I relish the taste.  I've always loved selshis, it's one of my favorites, unique in its flavor and very tender, one has only to take care of the bones, they are numerous and quite easy to choke on if care is not taken.  I've eaten enough selshis to know this and if it is properly cooked it pretty much falls off the bone anyway, and my second-mother taught me how to prepare it so I have little worry.

Tomorrow night I will move my camp, I have taken all the resources that I dare from this area.  It is never good to hunt or gather everything available from any one place unless it is a dire emergency, for it takes a great amount of time for the land to recover if it is cleared of game and forageable foodstuffs.

As I continue to eat the selshis I consider my options.  That is one of the benefits of being alone; all considerations are based solely upon my own wants and needs.  The drawback is that I must do everything: hunt, gather, find water, shelter…the list goes on and on and I must consider my energy expenditures; prioritizing everything is paramount if I am to survive.

I am still in pretty good shape, I've had enough to eat and a small spring is close by which eliminates my worry about water and makes hunting much easier since the game also needs water; some I have trapped and others I have taken with arrows, I am proficient with either.  From the animals I've killed, I now have two waterskins and a number of other implements and clothing articles.  While I would not say I have everything I need or am overly comfortable, I do have the necessities, which I will add to as time progresses and opportunities become available.

I believe that I will head southeast, I know of a good area about three nights travel from here, sheltered from the sun with a decent water supply, if it hasn't dried up for the season.  I always travel at night whenever possible, the sun can make things difficult, although it is considerably more hazardous to travel at night due to the fact that some of the more dangerous fauna choose this time to hunt; I will have to be on my guard.

It took me four nights rather than three to reach my new "home", I had to detour due to signs of morduska activity along my chosen path.  One does not temp fate when it comes to the morduska for they are a dangerous foe and more often than not, the unsuspecting traveller becomes a meal for the morduska.  Vigilence is the key, you must always be alert and on your guard and it is always safer to avoid morduska entirely.

My water supply here is not as plentiful as at my previous site, but it is enough... it will have to be.  With careful rationing and limiting my daytime activities, I should be all right.  I won't be able to stay here as long as I had hoped to though and my next objective is a week or so away.  I will need to have more water for my journey so I will need to acquire the means to carry it, and that means hunting for larger game.  A nice sized morduska is probably the answer, something two or two and a half armspans wide.

I can get so much that would be of use from an animal that size, the hide, water containers, meat, which I can also dry or smoke and take with me, the teeth, and a host of other items of use.  Of course, I could just as easily be of use to the morduska... as its next meal.

I prepare to hunt the elusive morduska by making spears, spears that are nearly twice as long as my height.  These will be needed to goad the morduska out of the sand where I can see it and get a good shot with my longbow.  The elusive morduska hunts by burrowing into the sand and waiting for prey to walk over it.  It then gives a mighty flap of its "wings," propelling the victim to its toothy maw that is located in the center of the top of its back.  Once a victim walks upon a morduska death is almost a certainty, few have ever escaped.

A wary hunter can defeat a morduska though, and that's where the spears come in.  I will not use them to dispatch the morduska, only to locate one and irritate it enough that it sheds the sand on top of it and rises to confront the source of the irritation.  I will use the spears to prod the sand in front of me carefully but forcefully, their length keeping me a safe distance from the beast, hopefully.  Then, if all goes according to plan, I can kill the creature with my longbow, hitting a lethal spot.

I set out for the rolling dunes of sand, the bases of which are prime hunting areas for the morduska.  I choose a high dune from which to observe my surroundings; morduska sometimes kick up quite a cloud of dust when they burrow and cover themselves with the loose sand.  This must be done during the heat of the day which I would rather avoid, but need overcomes want in some situations.

I sit for hours in the burning sun, unmoving.  My burnoose protects me from the blowing sand and the harsh rays of the sun, but it is still far from comfortable.  Sweat trickles from my pores and is absorbed into the ridgeweaver silk of my clothing, where it evaporates in the sun, helping to cool me.  I sip occasionally from my waterskin, sparingly using my water, as I have been taught.

It is early afternoon before I finally see what I have been watching for... a small dustcloud about a half mile away.  I take one final sip from my waterskin and, picking up my spears, I head off in the direction of the dustcloud where the fate of two denizens of the Sea of Fire awaits each of us.

As I approach my objective from the top of the dune I ready my spears.  Having walked along the top of the line of dunes as close as I dared I now must cross two other dunes to reach the area I saw the morduska sign and there is always the possibility that between us there could be another morduska which had not moved.

I ready myself to descend the loose sand of the dune; one slip and I will slide and tumble all the way to the bottom and quite possibly into the gaping maw of a morduska.  I proceed down the sand very carefully, making sure of my footing, prodding all the while with my spears, not only searching for morduska, but to maintain my balance and rate of descent.

Having found nothing at the bottom of either dune and upon reaching the top of the final dune, I prepare myself.  I don't see any sign of the waiting morduska but I really expected none, morduska are masters of stealth.  Using my spears as before I carefully begin my descent, my mouth is dry with anxiety and anticipation.

As I near the bottom of the dune, I jab my left spear into the sand and feel resistance... and a small bit of movement.  I have found the morduska.  I quickly withdraw the spear, thrust again, with much more force, and am rewarded with more movement under the sand.  The shifting sand reveals the approximate size of the morduska; this animal will suit my needs nicely. 

I stab hard with my right spear, at the same time releasing my grasp on both spears and ready my bow.  I am rewarded with an explosion of sand and the sound of one very angry morduska reaches my ears.  The beast is fully exposed now and I quickly find the front of the creature and bury an arrow into its brain, followed by three more in rapid succession.

The morduska lies quivering on the sand, dead.  Today it was my fate to be the victor; perhaps tomorrow it will be my foes turn, which is the way of it.  The morduska gave me all I needed, and more.  I survived my sixteenth trial and the next six as well.  I returned to my clan and each time I was rewarded with a new mark, a new scar, an end as well as a new beginning, for you see, though I am a man I am also something more...

I am Tehir.

The First Raid

The yierka, horses, and camels are gone; the tracks, about six hours old and fading fast in the desert winds, lead southeast.  Twenty-seven animals in all, 8 yierka, 12 horses, and 7 camels were taken.  The two older boys assigned to guard the beasts through the night are dead, stabbed in the back, just below their kidneys, severing their renal arteries; their deaths, swift and silent…how easily it could have been me only a short year or so ago, before I began my trials.  A textbook raid, only this time it is against my clan, my people.  There will be revenge and it will be served in blood.  We are Tehir.

G'Arrone, my second-father approaches me, his normally scarlet clothing exchanged for his raiding attire, a mottled tan burnoose and veil, spurred riding boots, goatskin waterbag, a large morduska hide satchel, his quiver of arrows and his longbow.  His veil has one length of scarlet ridgeweaver silk among the tan strips woven about his head and face, his one allowance to his chosen color.  He asks me to walk with him.

"Radeek" he says to me, "you will be joining us on this raid".  I am stunned.  I have completed over three quarters of my trials and bear the scars to prove it, to include my training as a raider, yet I did not expect this; I have not yet reached halfway through my fifteenth year.  G'Arrone says to me "Go, see your mother, she has something for you".  "Yes father", I say to him as I bow respectfully and take my leave to find my second-mother, K'Miza.

I find my second-mother in our tent, sitting on a padded mat made of reeds woven into an intricate pattern.  Incense burns in various censures around the tent.  My second-mother bids me to sit across from her and as I do this she offers me tea, which I accept.  I do not speak as we sip our tea, she will tell me what she has to say when she is ready.  After what seems an interminable time, during which I have consumed half my tea, my second-mother speaks.

"Radeek, my son", she begins, "it is the tradition of our clan that the first raid which one goes on be accompanied by what will become the manner of dress of the new raider.  Tradition also states that this clothing come from the raiders mother."  My second-mother observes me over the lip of her teacup as she takes another sip.  She hands me a package and bids me to open it.  "My son, this gift is from your father and I," she says to me.  "It is to be worn with us in mind.  You will show neither cowardice nor mercy to your enemies when wearing it, for to do so would dishonour not only you, but your father and I as well."

Inside the package is clothing, black clothing, a majority of which has been made of ridgeweaver silk.  I am stunned, this is such a wondrous gift, I can only imagine the cost attached to these garments; veil, burnoose, and cloak, all of the finest quality.  There are also various accessories, yierka riding boots, containers for various things, an herb pouch.  I don't know what to say to her, thank you somehow doesn't seem enough.  I stand, go to her, kneel, and hug her.  I whisper into her ear "Upon my honour, by my blood, with my life, for my people."  As I pull away, I see the beginnings of tears in her eyes.  "Hunt well Black Raider, remember my words," she says to me, her voice cracking, "and may you always walk with the sun".

I proceed into my small part of the tent, partitioned off by linen screens, and change into my new clothes.  As I am winding my veil about my head and face I come back into the main room of our tent and find myself alone, my second-mother has gone.  I look down at myself and think that I am not deserving of such gifts as these.  I think back to my earlier life, which seems so very long ago; the loss, the pain, the fear, the unknown, so many questions, though the main one has always been "why?"  It has all led me to this point in my life, I have been waiting for this moment, though I did not realize it until now.  It appears my time has come and I feel comforted in this newfound revelation and identity.

I leave the tent and enter into the bright sunlight to find my second-father waiting for me.  He tells me my second-mother has gone to the Seer's tent to help with the bodies of the two who were killed.  I hear the keening cries of the female friends and relatives of the slain rising up through the desert air.  Mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, close friends, I believe I can hear my second-mothers cries among them, but I could be mistaken... all in mourning, all expecting vengeance. 

I look towards the tent where the bodies are being prepared and listen to the wails of heartbreak and loss of the women for a moment, closing my eyes, trying to draw strength from the sounds of pain, anguish, and despair I am hearing.  I have always found strength in things like this, I don't know why. 

My second-father watches me closely, waiting for me to open my eyes again before he speaks.  "Radeek, the elders have seen fit to name you as the Black Raider of our clan.  I myself petitioned them for this due to the circumstances and manner of your coming to us." 

I nod to him as he pauses a moment to collect his thoughts, then continues, "Many have worn the black veil through the ages, but none in many years.  It is not a color most desired among our clan; the man who wears the black veil is different... inside," he says, as he taps himself on the chest, over his heart.

As he speaks these words to me I realize he is right, I am different.  I appear as any other Tehir, though perhaps a bit taller than most and with a proclivity for longer hair than other men wear, but on the inside, in the place of my spirit, I find turmoil and violence, much like a desert sandstorm or an unbroken yierka... raging, unpredictable, and dangerous.  I do not know whether being the wearer of the black veil is a good thing or not, but I decide it is as it was meant to be and there is nothing I can do about it, except to live up to my second-parents expectations and honour them, though a nagging doubt continues to gnaw at my heart.

G'Arrone looks at me for a moment and places his hand on my shoulder before speaking again.  "I am proud to name you as my son, Radeek, you have done well in all that has been expected of you.  There are some things I wish to tell you though, things you need to hear and that you must remember." 

I nod to him in respect; G'Arrone rarely has ever told me anything that wasn't of use, somehow.  His hand leaves my shoulder as he bends down and picks up a handful of sand, allowing it to flow through his fingers and be dispersed in the wind.  His action with the sand tells me he is thinking, it is one of his quirks I have come to know over the years.

"Tonight you will face death" he says to me, "and you may deal death to others.  You will be afraid, Radeek, but to deny your fear is foolish, so do not make that mistake.  Instead, use your fear as strength rather than a weakness; it will make you alert, it will give you sharpness and a sense of your surroundings that is far beyond that which you now know.  Trust in your fear, embrace it, and name it, as your friend, and it will save you many times over your lifetime, if you only let it."

"Yes father," I say to him.  "It will be as you say."  There is something deep within me, nagging.  "Father, may I ask a question of you?"  I ask with some trepidation.  "Anything," is his reply.  I pluck at the sleeves of my cloak, the black ridgeweaver silk cloak.  "Father, am I cursed?  Am I somehow less?  Is this why I wear the black veil?"  G'Arrone smiles at me, but in that smile there is an underlying sadness.  "Radeek," he says, "there is no curse upon you.  Each man is something more and something less than any other man." 

He looks into my eyes and says to me, "There is a fire burning within you Radeek, a dangerous fire, I saw this the very morning I came upon you in that burned camp, covered in blood, the dead lying all around you".  He closes his eyes, recalling some distant memory.  "You were covered not only in blood, but in soot as well, your face nearly black with it, but there was not one mark of a tear upon your cheeks Radeek.  You were re-born that night, my son, out of fire, sand, and blood.  In death, you were given life, a new life, this life.  Only you can decide if this life is better than the last."

I am confused and my second-father knows it.  G'Arrone looks at me and says, "You see Radeek, we each have a path we tread.  It's not the path itself that's important, it's where we are upon the path and what we do as we walk it that matters, and each man determines that himself; I cannot tell you where you will be or where you will go or what you will do, only you can do that.  Perhaps your birth-mother could have, but even then, the gift of sight does not always turn out as expected."

"But father" I say to him, "what of the black veil?"  I am growing concerned that I have been somehow singled out as unbalanced or untrustworthy.  G'Arrone thinks a moment before answering me.  "Radeek, the black veil is reserved for those among our clan who have... not an evil, but a darkness about them, something in their spirit that is absent in most men.  You have always had this, since the day I found you; I do not know if it was there before I came upon you or whether it is due to your experiences, but my son, to wear the black veil is not a curse or a punishment, it means that you have the gift to use that darkness as a weapon in your favour, and it can become a very powerful weapon if used properly."

I understand then what I am, why I have been given the black veil.  I am a product of two lives, the life before and the life after the Empire destroyed my clan.  A life sacrificed so that I might live; blood, given freely, for me.  I thank G'Arrone for this explanation, for his honesty and I bow to him respectfully.

"Radeek, there is one more thing" he says to me.  He then steps through the tent flap as he motions me to keep my place.  He is gone only a moment and when he returns he has with him a second longbow and quiver of arrows.  As he hands them to me, he says "Here, you will have need of these tonight.  Use them well."  I accept the weapons and look them over with a keen eye.  I can see all are well made, master crafted in fact.  I thank G'Arrone for the gift of these fine weapons and I promise him they will be used well; to do otherwise would have been dishournable to G'Arrone.

We then have our evening meal, a much lighter meal than normal; to fight on a full stomach is to invite fatigue and sluggishness when neither would be welcome.  At dusk, we mount and ride, southeast.  We have our suspicions of where our animals went, we have been tracking a group of Tahlesh, or People of the Wind, vagabonds, thieves, and murderers... most are outcasts from other clans of Tehir.  There is little doubt in anyones mind that this is who stole our animals and killed two of our clan.

Bophwaz, my clans Master of the Desert, who is leading this raid, halts us after we have ridden for nearly five hours.  He motions us to dismount.  We sent a scout out earlier and he is waiting for us and confirms that, indeed, our animals are here.  The raid will commence as planned.  I am to be on the right flank, G'Arrone on the left.  We are to take out the sentries before the assault begins and then cover the main force once they enter the camp.  G'Arrone signals me, asking me if I am ready.  I nod to him, though I feel fear.  I remember his words, "use the fear as a weapon."  We each split off from our band of raiders, stealthily taking our positions.  I see two sentries in my area of responsibility, one stationary, and one patrolling the perimeter of the camp.

I wait for the signal, the soft sound of a horses nicker, mimicked perfectly by Bophwaz, means be ready, the second nicker means to fire.  I have an arrow nocked and eight more stuck in the sand on my right side.  I choose my target, the stationary sentry.  At the sound of the first nicker I draw my bow.  It is the target and I; nothing else exists in those few fleeting moments.  I draw a breath and let half of it out.  I hear the second nicker and let fly.  My arrow catches the sentry in the throat and he falls soundlessly in the sand.  I am already reaching for a second arrow before my first shot has even struck the first sentry.  I search for the second sentry.  I see him just as he comes around the last tent in line.  I draw my bow and fire.  I have my second kill; this one a head shot.

The raiding party moves forward, this is a sure sign to me that G'Arrone has eliminated his targets as well.  My eyes comb the darkness, looking for targets.  I see none.  The camp is asleep as our raiders creep among the tents, takoubas and yierka spurs in hand.  Death creeps among the Tahlesh and they don't even know it; surprise has been achieved. 

As the raiders enter the tents, a scream erupts from the darkness and the camp comes alive.  Tahlesh exit their tents, some armed, some not, and are cut down by our raiders.  I shoot two more as they attempt to enter into combat with my fellow raiders and one that attempts to escape into the desert. 

The battle, what there is of it, is short lived.  We have suffered minimal casualties, five wounded; none seriously and none killed.  The Tahlesh band is no more, all are dead or on their knees in the sand, to be taken and sold or bartered as slaves.  Our animals and those they already had are now in our possession. 

I come down from my position in the dunes and enter the camp.  I retrieve my arrows from the bodies of the Tahlesh I dispatched.  I feel no remorse, I feel no joy, in truth, I feel little, and I don't really know what I should feel.  It is not the first time I have taken a life.  I released a young woman, Va'mek was her name, from her agony on the morning after the Empire eradicated the clan of my birth, but this is different.  I have killed five men this night, five enemies of my clan, five Tahlesh who raided my people and killed two of ours, five Tahlesh who will not see the dawning of the sun.  I should feel something…shouldn't I?

Suddenly my head begins to spin and I sit down in the sand, a cold sweat breaking out on my forehead.  I feel ill and quickly turn to my right and what little was left in my stomach is now upon the sand.  G'Arrone sees me, approaches, and sits beside me.  He says nothing, but offers me his waterbag.  I shake my head but he insists and I have him pour some into my cupped hands and use this to clean the foul taste from my mouth.  He hands me some spearmint leaf to chew, which I know to be good to settle the stomach, and he then rests a hand on my shoulder, he is there and that is all that matters.

I begin to shake uncontrollably as the realization of what I have done hits home.  I turn to face G'Arrone in the darkness and I say to him, in a quiet voice, quivering with despair and shame, "You didn't tell me about this part, father.  Please, don't think less of me for my weakness." 

He says to me, in a soft voice, "Radeek, had you not felt as you do right now, then I would have thought less of you.  I will now tell you something else.  Killing a man is not hard... living with it after can be another matter entirely, for a good man.  Radeek, you will see these Tahlesh for the remainder of your days, they will come to you in your dreams, as will others throughout your life.  Be ready for them, for they are a part of you now."

G'Arrone then rises and offers me his hand; I take it and he pulls me to my feet.  He embraces me, as father to son, and tells me he is proud of me, that I have done well for our clan.  Then, with the rest of the raiding party, we gather the animals, captives and any other items of value, and we head home.  The desert will claim everything we left behind, including the bodies...

Those same bodies I still see in my dreams.

Biedi Keke (Rite of Blood, or sometimes referred to as the Trial of Pain)

**This particular event is taken from Radeeks own experience during this part of his Trials of Manhood.  Not all Tehir clans use the Trials of Manhood and of those that do the individual trials and rites can vary greatly.  This is by no means what all young men of the Tehir go through and should not be considered a common practice among all Tehir**

The linen sack over my head is tightly woven and stifling, making it very difficult to breath.  The leather thongs binding my wrists are painfully tight, leaving no room to attempt to free myself.  I hear the soft tread of a footfall approaching me, and suddenly I see stars behind my eyes, as I am struck upon the side of the head, hard.  I hit the floor, falling off the small stool I was occupying, and the kicking begins.  I try to curl into a ball, making myself as small as I can, but this only leaves my back open for assault.  I hear a sound that is eerily similar to a stick snapping and a sudden, intense pain in my side tells me I have at least one broken rib.  It’s nearly impossible to concentrate through the pain of the seemingly constant blows.  It goes on and on… and on.

I regain consciousness; I have no idea how long I’ve been unconscious or how many times I’ve been beaten senseless.  My entire body is in protest, but I make no sound; to do so would only bring on more punishment, as I’ve found out before.  I hear voices, Tehir voices.  “He’s awake”, one says.  A burst of fear goes through my mind.  I know the pain will begin… again.

Strong hands grasp my arms and pull me to my feet.  I groan at the movement, I can’t help it; it hurts so badly.  I am struck in the head with what I assume to be the fist of one of my tormentors; it brings on a wave of dizziness.  “How many are in your camp?” a voice asks, in Tehir.  I remain silent, knowing what my silence will bring.  “How many?  TELL ME!”  I grit my teeth together, which hurts like hell, but I will not speak; I must not allow myself to be broken.  I will not bring death upon my people by giving up this information.

It begins again, the beating, the kicking, the torment… the unbearable pain.  I hear screams of anguish, pain, and agony; they sound so very far away, is someone else here suffering as well?  It takes me a moment to realize the truth… the screams are my own, and they sound so sad, so forlorn, and so helpless.  Mercifully, I lose consciousness again.

I wake, spluttering; someone has doused me with water.  My hood has been removed and I squint against the feeble torchlight in the room.  We seem to be in some sort of cave or small cavern, very dimly lit.  My captors, there are five of them at the moment, all garbed and veiled in sanguine, are in the small room with me.  Though I can see them, I cannot see them clearly, for my eyes are swollen nearly shut from the beatings.  I have been placed back on my stool and the thongs that bound my hands behind me have been removed, though my wrists are now tied securely to the small table before me.

One of my captors places another stool across from me and sits upon it.  “Your camp, how many raiders are there?”  He asks me once again, for what must be the thousandth time, his voice strangely reasonable.  I attempt to spit at him but my mouth is too dry, so I grin at him, my lips split and bleeding; he understands the intent though.  He grabs the index finger of my left hand and gives it a savage twist.  I hear a loud CRACK and I scream; I can’t help it, my finger is broken, bent in a direction it was never meant to go.

“We can do this all day, or rather, I can,” says the Tehir across from me.  Fear courses through me.  “You could save yourself a lot of pain, only tell me what I wish to know,” he says to me.  Knowing the outcome, I shake my head slowly, almost imperceptibly.  I am afraid to try to speak, my voice, I am sure, would betray my fear.

The seated Tehir sighs and says  “Another finger, or something different?”  His fingers drum nonchalantly upon the table as he ponders this question.  He nods to himself as he reaches his decision, “Another finger, I think.”  Terror claws at me, deep within my guts, as he reaches for my hand.  I try to curl my hand into a fist, anything to keep him from those precious digits, to keep him from breaking another one. 

I can’t manage it though; the one broken finger I already have keeps me from being able to clench my hand.  I know what is coming as he grasps the middle finger of my left hand.  “One last chance” he says, his hand wrapped around my finger.  “Tell me, and this will all be over.  We’ll get you cleaned up, fed, and healed, as good as new.”

I want to, so badly, anything to stop this, but I can’t.  I try to steel myself for what is going to happen, but I only manage a forlorn look into my tormentors’ eyes.  “Go to hell” I mumble, so softly I doubt he heard me.  It’s the most defiance I can muster.

It seems he did hear me.  “SNAP!” as he wrenches my finger straight up and backward, but he doesn’t stop there.  He keeps his hand tightly gripped around my finger as he twists it, bending it back and forth, the broken ends of the bone grinding together; blinding agony courses from my hand and up my arm, searing itself into my brain.  My screams, continuous now, sound so pitiful to me.  Tears flow freely down my cheeks as the man continues working on my finger, I can’t control them; my agony is all encompassing, it is the only thing I know, this is now my reality.  I realize, just before everything goes black once again, that I have become pain.

I slowly come to my senses out of a haze of agony to find myself suspended from a rope tied about my wrists.  I don’t know how long I’ve been here.  I now have three broken fingers on my left hand and one on my right, and I have no idea what other injuries I have, but I know there are a lot.  I have at least four broken ribs; I know this because every breath is a new adventure in pain.  I can only raise my head high enough to make out the feet of my tormentors across the small room.  The last round of torture proved that I can’t even scream now, my throat is so raw from what feels like uncountable months of it, that I can only manage feeble whimpers, pitiful animal sounds, mewling... begging.

I am broken; I can’t stand any more.  The same question, repeatedly.  Did I answer it?  I can’t remember; hell, I can’t remember who I am.  What was the question?  Who am I?  How long have I been here?  I lift my head higher, pain coursing through me.  Dizziness assaults me, my vision clouds and then I see a woman robed in crimson with long dark hair and grey eyes; she is trying to tell me something…I know she is; I can feel it.  I can’t hear her, what is she saying?  Please, tell me my name, woman; who am I?  She steps closer and reaches her arms out to me.  I can see viridian swirls in her twilight grey eyes and many thin scars criss-cross her hands and arms.  Those eyes, those scars, they seem somehow familiar; I’ve seen them before.  I can’t remember.  Please, tell me my name.  Who…am…I?  Her lips move and one word echoes in my mind with the force of a thousand voices.  Radeek!  That is my name; my name is Radeek! 

My captors see me raise my head and start towards me.  As they approach the woman in crimson fades away into nothing.  I know her…somehow.  Who is she?  I hurt; I hurt a lot.  I am beyond caring, but at least I’ll die knowing who I am.  The woman is gone and in her place stands men, men who will hurt me.  I laugh; well, I try to laugh.  Instead, I cough up blood, and bone-wracking pain comes with it.

A small but wicked looking knife flashes in the dim light.  I see it coming closer, nearing the left side of my face.  Damn them, they’re going to take my eye!  Fear courses through my body and mind.  I try to struggle, but I barely moved.  I have nothing left, nothing at all; I am broken and defeated.  A burning pain as the knife carves into my face, deep into the flesh, from my temple to my jaw line.  It seems to go on forever, twisting, turning, and spiralling, like a snake of fire, a burning selshis.  I feel the blood streaming down my face.

After the knife-wielder inspects his work and nods in satisfaction, another man then takes my chin in his hand and rubs something into the wound.  It burns, fiercely; it doesn’t matter, I will die here, I know it; they can do nothing else to me except end my torment.  “Cut him down” I hear one of the men say.  That voice, I know that voice; I know I do, but my pain-addled brain can’t process it.  “Get him to the healers, quickly!” the so very familiar voice adds.

As the rope is cut two of my captors hold me up, they are strangely gentle with my broken body.  Before I lose consciousness, the man who wielded the knife leans over and whispers into my ear.  “Well done Radeek.  Your scar has been well earned and you have resisted with honor and strength for these past eleven days; you said very little and revealed nothing that would seriously betray your clan.  I am proud to be your father and to have taken you as my son.  You are Tehir.”    

The Desert Strider

My travels have taken me far from my home and the lands I grew up in, the desert I know and love, The Sea of Fire.  A place that most think of as desolate and forbidding, and even deadly.  It is all of these, and so much more.  There is beauty in everything if you only look, and in the Sea of Fire, also called Zhi’vieba, Zhizio, Zhudurqua, Turmeda, Latduame, and sometimes Zhifiier, depending on whom you speak to, beauty is never out of sight.  Even after all the years I've been away, I can close my eyes and almost see it, my home.  It is desolate, it is dry, it is hot, but it is also a place of serenity, peace, and incredible wonder, and I miss it horribly.  For, you see, I am Tehir.

I left Latduame before reaching my seventeenth year.  Before I had finished my last Trial of Manhood I thought the world was going to be my playground. My own status among the Tehir was very high due to the success I had in my trials up to that point, and I knew I would have little trouble in finding a mate of high status, but my destiny would lead me outside the world I was born to, the world I was familiar with, the world I was comfortable with.

My travels began the morning following completion of my last trial.  That trial, a vision, brought on by the consumption of a hallucinogenic herb specially prepared for the rite, sealed my fate.  The elders of my adopted clan made a decision that would affect me for the rest of my life.... they left me in the desert, alone.  They cast me out, not as an undesirable, but as one who would never again fit within the confines of the tribal ways of the Tehir. I was not marked, except for the scar for the completion of my last trial, nor were any of my teeth removed, common when someone is banished and turned out into the desert.  My circumstances were much different.  My vision told the elders that I would never be truly satisfied within Tehir society, it was not my destiny, and my life was to be led outside it, beyond it.  But my status would remain, my scars hard won and I wear them proudly in proof of this.  I am Tehir. I will always be Tehir. I cannot be anything else.

My second-parents, G'Arrone and his wife, the healer and herb mistress K'miza, taught me everything I needed to know to survive in the burning sands.  Though it pained me greatly to not be able to say good-bye to them after awakening the next morning to only the silence and heat of the desert, and one hell of a headache, I knew in my heart they felt my gratitude for everything they had done for me over the years, wherever they were.  K'miza had left me all the equipment and supplies I needed for an extended stay in the desert, and what I didn't have I would hunt or forage for. It is, and always has been, the way of it.  I am Tehir.

I spent the remainder of that day under my sunshade, for by the time I had come fully awake it was far too hot to travel on foot.  I took stock of my situation, made an inventory of my supplies, and began to assess what I would do and where I would go.  I was very familiar with the landmarks in most of the Sea of Fire and where each oasis was in any direction I chose to go because my clan did a lot of trading and was very well traveled.  I could tell by the tracks that my clan had left, which were quickly eroding in the wind-swept sand that they had traveled east.  I would go west.  In choosing this direction, I knew I would probably never see my second-parents again, for the Sea of Fire is a vast place and chance meetings are few.  The desert is a cruel mistress, but she is my home, and I am Tehir.

That evening, after the oppressive heat of the day had passed, I set out, heading west.  I walked for over a week, resting during the heat of the day and traveling only at night.  Hunting was also better at night since a majority of the fauna is also active during the cool of the darkness.  I did not suffer due to hunger or thirst, for I know how to survive in the desert, I am Tehir.

I had passed a number of caravan trails but none seemed to have been used recently.  I knew the closer I got to Imperial lands the more caravans I would come across.  Sure enough, in another day or two I saw a caravan of eleven wagons heading south, laden with goods.  This would be my first contact with people, and non-Tehir to boot, since I had been turned out into the desert.  I was nervous.  How would this turn out?

Now, I've never been a master of the Common language, but in those days, I knew only a smattering of words used in trade and commerce.  I had no reason to learn more, nor did I have a desire to, I am Tehir.  I stood in the center of the "road", really just a barely recognizable path, and waited for the traders to approach. Upon seeing me, the caravan called a halt and three men at arms left the wagons and approached me, their spears at the ready.  As they approached, they were wary, heads always in motion, scanning the area for any sign of ambush.  I had stowed my bow in my back-quiver and my yierka spur was on my belt, fastened down, and I had my hands at my sides, palms facing the approaching men so that they could see I was holding no weapons.

The men approached and the eldest, who I took to be the leader of the three, spoke to me.  I understood nothing he said so I gave him a little shrug. He gave an exasperated sigh and, with one more cautious look over the area, motioned me to follow him.  We proceeded back to the wagons and I was shown to a water barrel.  I knew the common words for water and drink, so I knew I was being asked to quench my thirst.  This I did, sparingly, as I had been taught, I am Tehir.  I also knew that the offering of water was always an offer of peace, both between Tehir and those who dealt with them.  This eased my mind considerably and I'm sure it eased the minds of the teamsters as well.

After quenching my thirst, I was led to one of the wagons, this one just a bit larger than the rest.  This must belong to the caravan master.  I was quite surprised, and had a very difficult time not showing it, when the fattest man I've ever seen looked down at me out of the back of that wagon.  He was enormous!  I don't know how he got around, but for all his girth the man was quite light on his feet, he jumped out of that wagon like a fellow a quarter his weight.  The sound his feet made upon making contact with the ground reminded me of the final death quiver of a very large Morduska, giving one last flap on the sand.  But I was in for another surprise, this man spoke Tehir, or at least he spoke more Tehir than I did common.

He introduced himself as Lanson Erswind, and yes, he was the master of this caravan.  In his Tehir, which wasn't too bad, all things considered, he asked if I'd be willing to give him my name.  This was of course within Tehir custom; a man never has to give his name unless he wishes to.  I gave him my name, with matronymics, and he offered his hand, which I took.  I liked this obese man immediately; there was nothing fake about him.  He led me to the other side of the wagon, which had a bit of shade, and told me, in his not-too-bad Tehiri, that the caravan would stop here for the day.  He said he was hungry anyway, and gave a great laugh and poked me in the ribs.  It took me a moment to realize he was making fun of himself and his weight, but when I did I laughed as well.

This was the beginning of a very good friendship, if a very short one.  Lanson was bitten by a Selshis less than a month later and died from the bite.  The Selshis had evidently crawled into his sleeping blankets for the warmth and Lanson must have rolled over on it in his sleep, we found him stone cold dead the next morning.  Life in that caravan was never the same after Lanson and I got on with another caravan group as soon as I could.  Lanson had been the only one in that group who never treated me as anything more or less than a man, the rest of the teamsters always looked at me as if I was something less than human and I was never comfortable around them.

Lanson's caravan had been heading deeper into the Sea of Fire on a southerly route out of Vornavis.  A week or so after Lanson's death we met up with another caravan heading northerly, back to Vornavis.  I joined up with them and that's where I met Joazen. Joazen was a rather surly fellow at first and I didn't think we'd end up getting along at all.  He had a misshapen face, all skewed to one side I suppose is the best way to describe it, and he LOVED to fight.  He would fight anyone, anytime, for any reason, I'd never seen anyone like that.  As Tehir we would wrestle, a lot. It was a way of life and always in good sport, but this man was something different and outside anything I had experienced.

For some reason Joazen liked me.  He took it upon himself to teach me the common tongue and had me ride with him on his wagon.  He would point to something and make me tell him what it was, in common.  If I didn't know he would tell me but he didn't like it when I forgot something or got it wrong.  He would chide me mercilessly.  Unfortunately, what I didn't know was that his common was quite bad due to his deformity and hardly anyone could understand him.  His deformity was due to him having been hit in the face with a mace when he had served as a soldier.  I was told that the blow would have killed most men, but not Joazen, he was simply too mean to die.

But Joazen was good to me, he always treated me as an equal, something he didn't do with most men.  But my learning of the common tongue suffered due to being taught by him, with his speech deformity.  I don't fault him for this; it's simply the way of it.  In fact, I appreciate his efforts.  Had it not been for him I may never have learned to speak any sort of common at all, since very few people would take the time to teach a Tehir anything in those parts of the world.

I spent a few years caravanning with Joazen, and they were good years.  I learned a lot of the ways of the world, cities, towns, people, and the ways of the Imperials.  But I was growing restless.  The vision my birth mother had given me before her death kept haunting me.  One day we had arrived back in Vornavis and I knew it was time.  I thanked Joazen for all he had done for me and bid him farewell.  The man had tears in his eyes as he told me good-bye, but he understood.  It seems he always understood.  "Walks wit' da sun, Tehir", were his last words to me.

It was time to move on.  It is the way of it.  I am Tehir.

The Lone Wolf

The nearly full moon is partially obscured by scattered clouds as the silence of the night is suddenly broken by the mournful howl of a solitary wolf.  The rising cry echoes eerily off the nearby hillsides and soon other wolves join in, creating a chorus of wolf song that echoes through the night air.

The lone she-wolf who began the song lowers her muzzle from the sky and surveys the area with her golden eyes.  She is an exceptional specimen of her species, large and powerful.  Out of the darkness a tall man approaches and stands by her side, his calloused hand resting lightly on her neck, gently scratching her mane as he speaks softly to her in a strange language, guttural and sharp.

She responds to his words by turning her head and looking directly into his eyes, viridian swirled twilight grey eyes.  The man kneels before her and hugs her about the neck, she responds by licking his face.  The man stands once again and, spoken so softly as to nearly not be heard, utters one word, … Go!

The wolf runs through the darkness, using the lope that her kind is famous for, steady, strong, and able to cover great distances in a surprisingly short span of time.  She senses that the man is following behind her so she adjusts her pace to match his.  Together, man and beast run through the night, swift and silent, leaving no sign of their passing, two shadows in the darkness.

The dawn is beginning to lighten the eastern sky when she feels the command in her mind…Stop!  She complies immediately, looking back over her shoulder to see the man close behind her.  She pants lightly, her tongue hanging from her mouth.  The man is in nearly the same condition, a light sheen of sweat on his skin and his breathing slightly more rapid than normal; both are tired from the exertion of the run, but neither is exhausted. 

The man comes up to stand beside her and, resting his hand on her head, scratches her between the ears.  She leans into him, each providing a comfort to the other, drawing strength from the others presence.  Both were at one time alone; now neither is.

The man thinks for a moment, weighing options, considering avenues.  He kneels down to check the condition of the wraps about the paws of his companion; wraps made from the hide of the Sea of Fire dwelling creature known as the Morduska.  They are strong and durable, exactly what is needed to protect the paws of his friend and companion.

Satisfied that each of the wraps is in good shape and secure the man stands and opens his satchel, removing two pieces of rolton jerky; giving one to the she-wolf he begins to chew on the other himself.  The wolf devours hers in one large gulp and the man smiles at her, then, after looking down at the half eaten piece in his hand, he gives it to her as well.

He then removes a bowl from the satchel, fills it with water from his water-skin, and places it on the ground before his companion.  She begins noisily lapping at the water, bringing another smile to his lips.  Only when she finishes does he put the bowl back in his satchel and slake his own thirst.

The man decides he knows where they are.  He also knows there is a river close by and he should be able to find a decent place to lay up for the day, resting and gathering a few resources; perhaps even a decent meal.  The two of them have been on the move for so long, sometimes it feels like forever. 

Perhaps they have put enough distance between themselves and their pursuers that they have given up, deciding the quarry was not worth the effort; it has happened to the man before.  The trick is not leaving a trail and moving fast, two things that are normally mutually exclusive when moving through the wilderness.

The thought of their pursuers brings the man back to the reality of their situation; there will be no rest, no fire, and no evening meal.  The only real safety is in putting as much distance between themselves and the small town they visited four days ago; the one with the six dead Imperial soldiers in it, the six soldiers who were alive and well until they decided a lone Tehir would be good for a bit of sport.  What they failed to understand was that this particular Tehir, who, due to the presence of his companion was far from alone, thought nearly the same thing; six Imperial soldiers might be good for a bit of sport.

The chase was on but the man and his companion have the advantage; they can move faster than their pursuers can hunt.  The man, highly trained and skilled in the art of survival, and his companion, whose senses, instincts, and cunning are well known, will easily win this race.

The man decides, on a whim, that he has had quite enough of running; it was time that the hunter became the hunted; lessons needed to be taught and learned.  He leans down and whispers something into the she-wolfs ear and she heads off in an easterly direction, the man then proceeds west.  After backtracking their own trail for nearly five miles, the man comes upon the tracks of horses.  There appear to be at least half dozen horses; all heavily burdened… armoured men ride these horses.

A quick plan begins to take form in his mind and he runs back the way he came until he finds the river; he then quickly swims it, leaving ample sign on both banks of his having done so.  He then proceeds a quarter mile or so into the forest on the other side and builds a fire; one much too large for a man alone in the wilderness who does not wish to be found.  He then begins putting green leaves and pine boughs on the flames, creating a lot of smoke, smoke that filters up through the trees and into the sky.

Now, the waiting begins.  He has chosen a well-concealed place near the point where he crossed the river.  After a while, he hears the snorting of horses and the clank of metal armor; this is almost too easy.  Soon they are close enough that he can hear their voices.

"Don't you find this strange?  We haven't seen a single track, not one bit of sign, and suddenly we see smoke and come across these tracks," one of the riders says.

"Yeah, we weren't even heading this way, until we saw that smoke," says another.

The others mutter in agreement.

"Shut up, all of you!  We're going to kill this murderer.  He killed my friends," another says.

"Your friends were thugs, and they tried to take the man, six on one, just because he was Tehir.  I'd say they chose poorly this time," the first says again.

"Enough!  Now get across that river so we can end this.  I want his head on a pike!"

The six men on horseback lead their horses down to the bank of the river and begin crossing.  At a point roughly halfway across the river, the horses are beginning to founder, the water deep enough that they are not quite able to either walk or swim.

It is at this point that the man steps out of the brush, training his longbow on the men, and says, "A'right der fellers.  I reckons dat's bouts as fer as yer gonna go's.  Ya's gots yerselfs a choice here.  Ya can head on back whar ya cames from, er I can kills ya right here an' now; don' matters much ta me which it be."

The man who told them all to shut up and cross the river states, in a loud voice, "He's only one man.  He can't hit all six of us with that bow; no one is that good or that fast."

It's at this point that the companion of the man, the she-wolf, steps out from behind him, baring her teeth and growling menacingly.  The horses, already skittish and nervous from their predicament in the water, become even more agitated.

"Nope, ain' gots ta shoots ya wit' da bow.  All I gots ta does is shoots yer horses.  Reckon wit alla dat armor yer all a'wearin ye'll sinks like a stone.  River'll does m'job fer me.  Er mebbe I'll just turns da wolf loose... lets her spooks yer horses so's dey bucks ya'll off… be da same r'sult.  Alla ya'll be dead no matter which; an me, well I'll jus' keeps on walkin.  Choice be yers, but ye'd bes' be a'makin it quick."

Knowing they are as good as dead if they don't agree, the five men force their comrade to agree to the terms.  They turn their skittish horses around and head back the way they came.  The mans voice reaches them from the other side of the river, "Ya'll r'members dis.  I coul'a kill't ya any time; ye'd a ne'er saw'd me, ye'd a ne'er know'd I were der.  Ye'd a ne'er foun' me if'n I hadn't a'wanted ya to, so keeps ridin' back from whar ya come, an' ye'll live.  Foller me, an' I'll kills ya'll… real slow."

The man and the she-wolf then disappear into the forest, continuing in a generally northern direction.


He opens his eyes and is greeted by darkness.  It is still many hours before the dawn, but sleep for this night has ended, so he decides to get up and begin the day.  Climbing out from under his sleeping furs, he crawls through the entrance of his small travelling tent and into the chill of the night.  Stiffly, he stands, then bends and stretches to relieve the kinks that come from sleeping upon the damp ground; it is not exactly comfortable, living primitively, and can be hard on the body.

He slowly strides over to the fire pit and, grabbing a stick, stirs the small bed of coals back into life, adding the necessary fuel for the small fire to sustain itself.  The fire brings with it welcome warmth and the man basks in the feeble glow, attempting to drive the chill out of his travel weary bones.  It seems like he has been on the move forever, yet he feels he still has very far to go.

The man (though he rarely thinks of himself as such) has maintained this existence for the better part of four years now; staying away from people whenever possible, always alert to the presence of others.  Normally, when he finds other people he sneaks quietly away, melting into the forest, making no sound and leaving no trace of his presence. 

On the rare occasions that he does not have the opportunity to do this and is forced to interact he always does so from the greatest distance possible, making sure that his face is covered, giving no one the chance to see him, not allowing anyone to know him.  He speaks as little as he can, asking few questions and giving little in the way of answers; it is not that he likes being like this, but he has found it a necessity.

He feels no loneliness, but he knows he is alone; the company of others hasn't been important to him for quite some time.  There was a time in his life when it mattered a great deal, but no more... those days are gone.  He walks the lands for the sake of walking them, with neither purpose nor goal.  His life, though it may seem simple, has seen great complexity and there are a multitude of reasons why the man is the way he is; outside of the place he once called home, only he knows his past.

He wraps his black cloak tighter about himself, trying to ward off the pre-dawn chill.  Walking over to the nearest tree he unties a knotted rope that holds his pack suspended over a limb, keeping his meager possessions safe from prowling animals.  From within the container he brings forth a small pot, which he fills with water from his waterbag and places on a stone near the fire to heat it. 

The water is soon hot and he puts various herbs and vegetation, some dried, some recently foraged, into the pot to steep.  Spruce needles, marjoram, chicory, and a few linden flowers for a touch of sweetness.  Using one of his gloves as a potholder, he pours some of the contents of the pot into a battered tin cup.  Bringing the cup to his lips the man smiles briefly, the first warm taste is always so satisfying.

Once again rummaging through his pack, he brings out a small parfleche, a satchel specifically made for carrying meat, and removes the other half of the rabbit he had for dinner the night before.  Using a green stick he skewers the rabbit half, puts it over the hot coals to cook, and is soon greeted by the wonderful aroma of roasting meat. 

While the rabbit is cooking he begins breaking camp and packing his few belongings, readying himself for another day, or more, of travel.  He'll eat on the move this morning; he has stayed here long enough.  Finishing his tea, he tosses the dregs into the forest and puts the cup and pot into his pack, which he settles onto his back, the now all too familiar weight feeling like an old friend.  He grabs the green stick holding his cooked breakfast and hastily kicks dirt onto the fire, extinguishing it, and walks into the darkness, in a generally northerly direction, gnawing upon his cooked rabbit. 

As the dawn begins to lighten the sky behind the mountains to the east, he pauses for a moment to gaze in wonder and awe at the view.  Deep violets, burgundies, oranges and pale yellows mingle against the puffy clouds over the mountains, creating a breathtaking sight; another dawn in Elanthia, and something he never tires of witnessing.

He has been heading north for weeks now, almost as if he has been drawn that way.  He does not hurry his journey, maintaining a steady mile-eating stride that is neither tiring nor lax but covers distance with surprising speed.  He can maintain this pace indefinitely, as he was taught and trained to do.

He stays away from the roads as much as possible, preferring to travel cross-country, bushwhacking when necessary.  He forages as he travels and knows he won't go hungry; the forest provides a bounty of edibles as long as one knows where to look.  It's mid fall and there is still ample food to be had, fruits and berries, nuts, greens of various kinds, mushrooms and bracket fungi, and he has his longbow which he uses regularly for various animals, from squirrels to larger game, such as stags and wild boar.

As he settles into his daily routine of walking his eyes are in constant motion, aware of his surroundings.  He comes across a small stream and uses the opportunity to re-fill his waterbag.  There are some cattails here as well and he harvests the young shoots and a couple of the rhizomes that serve as the root for the plant.  The younger shoots, when lightly boiled, are rather asparagus-like in both taste and texture and the rhizomes serve as a starch, but are best par-boiled and then roasted over a fire.

There is wild sorrel, chicory, and dandelion greens; together, with a few wild onions, this will make a nice salad.  Wild carrots and wild parsnips with a few more wild onions make for the beginnings of a fine stew; add a squirrel or two and it's a meal fit for a king, but it will serve just as well for a ranger, alone in the wildlands.

Everything he gathers goes into his travelling satchel or his pack.  He takes only enough for his evening meal and he never takes the last of anything; this insures that whatever he has foraged will soon recover from his culling.  He nibbles on assorted things he finds as he travels, an occasional walnut or an apple, things of that nature.  He does not stop for lunch; he keeps moving north... always north.

He has travelled far for one so young, leaving all he knew at the tender age of seventeen.  He has made his living working in trade caravans, as a woodsman, he even tried his hand at being a mate on a fishing skiff, but chronic and violent seasickness ended that endeavour.  He has worked as a skinner and served as a bodyguard for a rather colorful and somewhat less than honorable merchant.  All of these were temporary arrangements though, a means to an end. 

The man had heard of the town of Wehnimer's Landing years before.  He heard that people with adventurous spirits were welcome there, that it was a free town, and anyone could do well there.  To a man like him, with neither home nor family, this sounded too good to be true, so he filed it away in the back of his mind.

So, with nothing to do except travel, he remembered the stories he had heard and decided to make the journey.  He knew the trip would be arduous, but what in life worth having wasn't?  Gathering some meager supplies and equipment that he knew he could not get in the wilderness he set out, hoping to find a better life, a life of acceptance of who and what he was, a life free from his past. 

Perhaps Wehnimer's Landing will give him all of those.  Maybe he will finally catch a break; luck may yet smile upon him.  And if it doesn't, there is always the road, leading to somewhere else, and something new.

Wolves and Longbows

My one and only prized material possession, Eyesore, a marbled grey woodsman's longbow, is in my left hand.  She was painstakingly crafted from richly grained ruic and has been stained in a random pattern of colors ranging from twilight grey to the deepest black.  The grip, tightly wrapped with black leather that's been bound in an intricate open weave of dark grey spidersilk, fits my hand perfectly, she is part of me, an extension of my left arm and of my spirit.  Her release is silent, the spring of her limbs is equal, and powerful, any arrow that leaves her flies straight and true.  A miss of any kind is not the fault of Eyesore; it is mine and mine alone.  A Longbow of power, precision, and accuracy, she was made for this, it is her purpose, and she has been my weapon of choice for many, many years.

Eyesore made the trip with me from the Sea of Fire when I was a young man, where she was made by and belonged to my second-father, G'Aronne, a raider of the Mir'sheq and one hell of an archer, fletcher, and bowyer. He taught me everything I know of bows, and so much more.  When I was forced to leave the Tehir after completing my final trial and receiving my last scar, G'Aronne insisted my second-mother, K'Miza, include that particular longbow and a good supply of arrows with the gear and supplies she left for my use. The arrows K'Miza included have long since been used, but Eyesore is still with me, and every bit as powerful and deadly as the first time I drew her, so many years ago and so very far away from here. Thank you, G'Arrone and K'Miza, for everything.  I learned so much from the two of you.  May you both walk with the sun.

Eclipse, the black-tipped twilight grey wolf that has been my companion for what seems like forever, is, at my silent command, holding back, covering my flanks.  I know she is there, even though I cannot see her.  She is always there.  Eclipse knows and understands more than I do, or so I believe at times.  She understands both common, even my fractured version of it, and Tehir and my hand signals to her can be quite complex and she does exactly as requested.

She and I have walked side by side and fought together for almost as long as I can remember, through the bad times and the good, and she has never failed me.  I owe her many debts that I can never begin to repay, but she doesn't seem to mind.  She is more than a friend and companion, much more.  She is a large part of my soul, and she is my spirit totem.  She is second only to Phever when it comes to things I hold most dear, and I would willingly give my life for either of them, at any time, for any reason.  Eclipse is also why Phever and I are together, but that is another story, for another time, perhaps.

Eclipse came to me when I was a much younger and far less experienced Ranger.  I had fought in most of the campaigns west of the Dragonspine in my younger days, but one conflict in particular shaped my life more than any other.  Due to events during the Griffin Sword War in Solhaven I walked the lands alone, completely and totally. Before that bloody and brutal war, I was young and confident, and for my age, I was considered the best at what I did, assured of my place in the scheme of things.  I was even a bannerman for the side of good and right, a real flag-waver for the goody-two-shoe crowd.  I wasn't always as cynical as I am now.

But afterward, I was broken, I was beaten, I was bitter, I was scorned and ridiculed, and I had no one.  It wasn't anyone's fault except my own.  I didn't take care of myself after that, I rarely bathed, once a season, if that, and I ate pretty much whatever I foraged or killed in the wilds.  My visits into town became fewer and further between, and when I did come to town, I avoided others as much as I could.  I withdrew into myself; nothing seemed to matter any more.

Very few people would speak to me, let alone befriend me.  Turinrond, The Coyote, was one; Calean, a very powerful sorcerer, another, and I miss them both. Now don't get me wrong, I still consider myself pretty much a loner and to this very day I like my alone time, in moderation, but to have to endure it for weeks, months, or even years at a time is very difficult and it weighs heavily upon you, it's something you never get used to.

I was hunting around Solhaven, one of my many chosen hunting grounds back then. I had seen wolf sign about the area, the tracks were very large and deeply imprinted into the ground, and they were fresh.  I had always had an affinity for wolves, I suppose it came from my birth mothers final prophesy to me. I can hear her urgent and pain-laden words to me clearly, as if it were but moments ago when I first heard them.  Part of this prophecy that she whispered to me, her voice so close to death, was this, "Find the wild dog of the moon, and relish in her power and loyalty."

I was having a particularly bad day and my loneliness had become extremely hard to bear, I longed to share my thoughts.  I could stand it no longer; I was so tired of being alone.  I broke down and I prayed to Phoen to make this loneliness pass, or to let me die.  By Phoen's grace I had been granted a new spell not long before, so not knowing what else to do, and in desperation, I cast it.  Now, I have never been a very good follower of Phoen, back then I wasn't quite as bad as I am now, but still I didn't expect any sort of divine help, but desperation does funny things to a man.

A few moments after I cast my spell there was a rustle in the underbrush, and out stepped the biggest damned wolf I had ever seen.  She had golden eyes, eyes that shone with intelligence and cunning, and she was using them to look right through me.  I was both terrified and elated. Immediately, I went to my knees and I spoke to the wolf, nothing much really, just nervous words spoken from a broken and battered ranger to a grand and perfect animal that I knew, deep down in my heart, I didn't deserve.

She cocked her head to one side as if she were taking my measure, judging me, deeming me either worthy or unworthy.  Then she walked over and sat at my side, turning her head to look into my eyes as if to say "Now what, Ranger?"

I swear I could feel the spirit of this great beast, and my own spirit felt so pitifully small and insignificant beside hers, and sometimes it still does.

I had witnessed wolves in the environment and I knew some of their habits, but how does one go about befriending one?  It occurred to me that wolves, especially lone wolves, weren't really that different from me, back then I always appreciated a good meal, when I could afford one, and it didn't matter much where it came from.  I happened to have quite a bit of rolton jerky on me so I gave her some, which she ate with great enthusiasm.

Tentatively, I reached out and stroked her fur; it was so soft and thick, with a muscular frame beneath. This was a truly magnificent creature beside me.  She licked my hand as I stroked her under her massive chin and that's when I saw it.  Her nearly black muzzle had a small, pale, sunburst-shaped mark upon it, just above her right nostril.  This had to be a sign, a sign that my prayer to Phoen had been answered.  This was the reply to my desperate plea to the Lord of Light.  But I knew it would be up to her, would she stay with me, or would she find me lacking and leave?

Evening came and darkness was descending upon us.  The wolf was still with me.  I looked up into the rapidly dimming sky and that's when it came to me.  The wolf, or as my birth-mother Q'atild, First Among the Mir'Sheq Seers, had labelled her in her vision, "the wild dog of the Moon", needed a name. There was the answer, the Moon.  I would name her, not after a moon, but for an event caused by a moon.  Eclipse.

Eclipse.  That was her name, it was almost as if the wolf had told me herself, and maybe she had.  It felt right the first time I said it aloud to her and her ears perked up and I swear she smiled.  You know that look canines get, the one that you just know equates to laughter or happiness.  Well, she had it, and that in turn made me smile, the first smile to cross my features since I couldn't remember when.  I was no longer alone, it wasn't just "me" anymore, it was "We," it was "Us," her and I.  It seems I had found one of the pieces that was missing from my shattered life.  All was now just a little more right with my world.

The years came and went and many battles were fought, personal and physical, large and small.  Some won, others lost.  Eclipse has remained by my side the entire time and is better known to some people than I am.  Due to my habit of walking in silence, she is sometimes the first indication to others that I am even in the area.  People see Eclipse and know I am about and I'm sure some of them think I belong to the wolf, rather than her to me, though in truth it is neither, and it is both.  We are companions who each chose to walk with the other, together, along our chosen paths.  We are friends, we are inseparable, but most importantly, we are family.  We are one.

From Out of the Mouths of Wolves

Shortly after the Griffin Sword Wars, I found myself back in the familiar town of Wehnimer's Landing.  I would love to be able to say that it was good to be home, but it wasn't.  Life for me had changed, drastically; friends were few and very far between.  I had a well-deserved reputation as a killer, well, murderer actually, and almost everyone I had named as a friend was no longer.  I don't blame them for this; I would probably have done the same given that the roles were reversed.  So, when I returned after the war it was Eclipse and I, and not much else.

Life was different back then, for one thing there were more of us in that part of the world, which didn't really help my situation... word tends to spread about such things.  But I endured it, after all, it's not like I was forced to do as I did, it was a choice.  If I wasn't ignored I was ridiculed, but I had, and still do have, a rather thick skin when it comes to matters that pertain to myself, and life goes on.

It was around that time when people gathered less in town center for spells and were more apt to congregate in the small park, town center was mostly for the empaths to practice their trade.  I too began hanging around the park, but always on the fringes, trying to be as unnoticed as possible.  I rarely spoke and only cast my spells when specifically asked to, which wasn't very often.  Occasionally someone would ask me to fetch some skins for him or her, but that was about the limit of my interraction with people back then.

While in the park I took notice of a stunning woman, why I don't know; she was quite a bit less trained than I, and she was beautiful, which put her far above my station in life.  She was a bardess, and when she sang it took my breath away.  I'd never approach her, she was eloquent and intelligent, very, very pretty, and well mannered... not the girl for me. 

But I'd watch her from time to time, without her notice of course, and marvel at her voice.  Under different circumstances, in a different life and time, maybe I would have approached her, but not now.  The Radeek of old might have had a chance, the one who tried to be honourable and chivalrous, but not this one, not the one fallen into darkness.

There came a day when the park was mostly empty for some reason, and in she came.  I had been playing with Eclipse, she has a tooth marked kitten toy that she used to love to tussle against me with.  For some reason I decided to talk to the Bardess; foolish, I know, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time.  I began to approach her and I lost all my nerve.  I stopped, embarrassed at my own indecision, turned and began to walk away.  I heard her call to me, asking my name.  "Hell" I thought to myself, "what can that hurt?"  "Radeek" was the reply I tossed over my shoulder as I continued walking, just wanting to get as far away from this area as I could to avoid further embarrassing myself.

I heard Eclipse growl, a deep powerful growl, and I looked around for enemies, since this is her normal warning of danger.  I saw none in evidence and looked for my companion to see what was troubling her.  She was sitting at the side of the Bardess, nuzzling her hand, licking her fingers, and staring at me with those golden eyes.  I don't know why, but this sparked a moment of puzzlement, indecision, and no small amount of embarrassment within me.  I suppose maybe I had been alone too long with only Eclipse as my companion and what I was really feeling was jealousy at the fact that my wolf was showing affection to another.

In Tehir I said to Eclipse, "Let's go, leave the lass alone."  Eclipse promptly lay down at the feet of the Bardess and whined at me.  Eclipse had never before disobeyed me, ever, and this surprised me, a great deal.  All I can do is look between the woman and the wolf. 

I can only imagine the expression on my face.  I think if I had to put a word to it "Befuddled" would be my choice, I've always liked that word.  The bardess is also obviously uncomfortable to be placed in the middle of this and that only adds to my embarrassment.  The last thing I want to do is enter into a lengthy conversation and apology to this woman of beauty, especially with the way I talk.  "This has not been a good day, and it's probably about to get a lot worse" is all that goes through my mind.

The bardess tries to shoo Eclipse to me, telling her to "go on."  I can tell the poor woman is becoming embarrassed as well.  Eclipse solves everything for us though, in true wolf fashion.  She stands up, takes the Bardess's hand into her mouth, and begins to pull her to me.  I can see the look in the lass's eyes, her hand in that maw full of gigantic, razor-sharp teeth that have ripped limbs from both people and creatures many times in the past.  She's afraid of what's happening, but more afraid to protest to the wolf.  Me?  I just want to crawl into the ground and disappear.

As Eclipse drags her close to me, I see the Bardess looking at my face... her eyes go directly to my scars, and linger there, and I become even more self-conscious.  I normally tried to keep my scars as covered as I could, to avoid just this kind of encounter, but during my play with Eclipse, I had removed my veil.

I can feel myself blushing but I can't help it.  At that point in my life I thought of my scars as a mark against me, denoting me as something less than human in the eyes of others and I had been told as much many times after the Griffin Sword War, so many times that I believed it myself.  And then, as if to add insult to injury, the Bardess chuckled.  Damn, now she laughs at me, perfect, just perfect.  I think to myself, "Thanks Eclipse, I thought you were on my side."

I turn to leave; I just want to get out of here, with or without Eclipse.  I can't deal with this, not today.  And then I hear it, that voice, that lovely voice coming out of that beautiful woman.  "Radeek", she says, "please... please stay.  My name is Phever, Phever Ta'rsakh".  I stop and turn to face her, although every fiber in my being is screaming for me to turn and run.  "What's your wolf's name?" she asks as she gently scratches Eclipse between the ears, right where she likes to be scratched the most.

"Eclipse" I answer, so softly I'm surprised she heard it.  "She's very beautiful," Phever says.  "She be a'likin' ya I reckons" I say to Phever and immediately regret it.  Dammit, I wish I could speak common like everyone else, I've tried; Gods know I've tried.  I can feel myself blushing again; my entire face is hot with embarrassment.  She sees my discomfort and asks me what's wrong.  "M'common be wretch'd", I answer, as I drop my eyes.  "I don' talks ta folks much on accoun'a it.  I opens m'mouth an' right off dey reckons I ain' none too smart.  Bes' not ta speaks mos' times, so's I don'."

All I can do is look at the ground and pray a hole opens up beneath my feet and swallows me; maybe there's a hungry Morduska down there...I certainly hope so.  I hear her voice again and my heart skips a beat.  "Radeek", she says, "look at me, please".  I look up from the ground that refuses to give me a merciful escape and our eyes meet.  Hers are the most gorgeous blue I have ever seen, turquoise blue.  "I don't believe that," she says to me, "I don't believe that at all."  She continues, "As a matter of fact, I doubt anyone who wasn't smart could have such loyalty from a creature such as Eclipse.  She loves you, you know.  And you love her.  It's plain to see." 

I smile at Phever then, and 'lo and behold, she smiles back.  My heart melts.  We spent the rest of that afternoon just talking.  We spent many, many more days together after that, telling each other the stories of our lives.  She told the tale of her youth, her loss, and her past.  I tell her of my life among the Tehir, the loss of my mother and my subsequent adoption, my Trials of Manhood and my scars; my role in the Griffin Sword War, what I did, and why.  Much to my relief she did not judge me as so many others had.  In fact, she never has judged me, nor has she pitied me. 

As time went on we grew closer, Phever and I, well, we fell in love.  There have been many times over the years that we had plans to get married, but something always came along that put those plans on hold... invasions, incursions, wars, some sort of disaster, one of my many walkabouts, it always seemed to be something.  But not this time; now that we've beaten Althedeus, this time it's going to happen.  I'm going to marry her and we're going to be happy.

Trouble With the Learning Curve

The library, once a place that was almost taboo for me, has become a sort of haven, a refuge from my past as well as an avenue for my future.  You see, I am doing something that I was once told that, because I'm Tehir, was a waste of time; I am learning to read, properly.  If it wasn't for Phever and Bekke I wouldn't be learning to read at all.  Both of these ladies have encouraged me and offered their assistance, but this is something I need to do on my own... it's personal I guess.
I can't begin to tell you how embarrassing it is to stand before the message tree struggling to decipher what has always appeared as chicken-scratch to me, and have people see you do it.  I feel my cheeks darken even thinking about it.  My illiteracy has always been a problem; people tend to equate intelligence with learnedness, and though my friends consistently tell me they know I am a smart man, I do not feel that way.  I am ashamed of myself and I feel my shortcomings bring pity from those who associate with me, whether they admit it or not. 

I'm learning more about numbers as well, it's not exactly fun to have to call anything more than four, "many", or "a bunch", or to have to ask someone how many that means, and to please explain it in very basic terms, and then hear the snickers.   

I never had a "formal" education, no classrooms, no books, no quills and inkpots; my education was much more practical, and quite often, painful.  I was taught how to kill efficiently and how to survive, and even thrive, in one of the most inhospitable places in the lands...The Sea of Fire.  I'm good at both, but people who wish to have their opinions respected need to be more; they need to be seen as well rounded; and so my quest for self-improvement has begun.  Though I knew going into this that it would be difficult, I had no idea just how hard it would end up being.

My first venture into the house of books was, well, to put it mildly, a dismal failure.  The librarian took one look at me and I could see the corners of his mouth turn down in distaste and scorn; I could almost read his mind, "What is this...thing...doing in my library?"  Maybe he thought I was lost, or drunk, I don't know, but I was obviously out of my element.  I looked at my surroundings, feeling both lost and intimidated, and I almost turned around and walked right back out. 

The librarian, still seeming uneasy at my presence, approached me and asked if there was anything he could do to help me, perhaps show me the way out, since I seemed to be lost.  I took no offence at this, it happens to me from time to time, I am Tehir and there are still some who see us as little more than animals.  I smiled back and asked him to please explain the process for borrowing books.  I could have shot him in the eye and not gotten the same response; he seemed very offended that I would even consider touching one of his books, let alone ask to borrow one.

I assured him that I had no intent of using the book as squatting paper or tinder.  I explained, as best as I could, that my intent was to learn to read, for my reading was so bad that it may as well be non-existent.  He seemed to deem this as being funny, since he certainly laughed, and laughed loudly, at which point he covered his mouth in embarrassment; we were, after all, in a library.

He asked me why I wished to learn to read, being that I was already on in my years, and that I seemed to be doing all right without it, so why bother?  He said people of my ethnicity seemed to be able to handle illiteracy better than most, so why should I wish to change?  I was beginning to lose patience with this man of books and it was becoming very difficult to maintain the illusion of a pleasant demeanor.

I pull the knife from my boots and casually cleaned my fingernails as I glanced at him, the green in my eyes became a little more pronounced and my features were just a wee bit more feral, and I told him, "Bookmasta, I'se gonna learns how ta read, come hell er high wat'r, an' we can does dis easy er hard.  Ya can tells me how ta go 'bouts gittin' books outta here ta reads, er I can guts ya right here on da spot an' reads yer entrails, dem's sumt'in I knows how ta reads a'ready.  Choice be yers."

There are times when having a bit of a reputation as a quick to anger, bloodthirsty animal can come in handy.  I thought he would faint, right there in that library, I've never seen someone go so pale so quickly; but, as the sweat beaded on his upper lip, he explained the process to me, probably more to get me to leave than anything else.  I'm sure he believed he would never see that book again.

My first book...The Official History of Elanthia.  Definitely not what I should have chosen, but I was in as much of a hurry to leave that library as the librarian was to get me out of there; the poor fellow, probably had to go clean out his pants after I left.  Come to think of it, there was a bit of an odd smell emanating from him.

It was fifteen days and three different checkouts of the Official History of Elanthia later, but I finally completed it.  My head was swimming and I still see that damned book in my sleep, but I finished it.  I felt...I don't know... somehow more... satisfied?  I'm not sure that's the right word for it, but it works for now.

The librarian and I have come to an understanding.  He says nothing to me; I pay my dues, get my book and I leave; no sitting in the library reading.  That works for me anyway, I prefer having a coffee and maybe a pipe full of tobacco while I read, or rather, while I stumble through the endless, mind-numbing pages of text, but it's getting easier. 

I no longer have the splitting headaches after four hours of fighting my way through two pages; in fact, I finished a book in one sitting today.  It wasn't a huge book, but it felt good to open it and not close it until it was finished, and without losing a day or two of sleep doing it either.

I suppose that, in a way, reading is like archery; though it might not be for everyone, with enough practice and dedication anyone can do it.  The practice and dedication part's a real pain in the backside.  I'm not going to stop though; I will become literate, even if it kills me...I just hope the librarian makes it through this.   

Nearly There

The deeply tanned man, taller than average, wearing only a loincloth, stands silently on the bank of the lake, a fishing rod in his hand, his viridian-swirled twilight grey eyes, windows into his once deeply troubled soul, appear far older than his actual age of forty-two.  His long midnight black hair, braided and bound with an old bowstring, trails down past his chest and is streaked with silver, a bit more silver than a year ago.  His well-muscled shoulders and arms glisten in the early morning sun.  He bears a faint, curved scar just below his right eye, which he occasionally reaches up to touch, perhaps to reassure himself that it is still there, and a smile touches the corners of his mouth.  The left side of his face is nearly covered, from forehead to jaw line, with a multitude of ritualistic scars, all appearing to be quite old.  A huge black-tipped twilight grey wolf sits at his side, her golden eyes watching the man closely.

The line twitches as a fish takes the bait.  The tall man jerks the rod to set the hook and the fight is on...

It doesn't matter to me one bit who wins this battle; it's just me and the fish and even if I win this one I'll let him go. I find it strangely peaceful to be locked in a struggle that isn't life or death and to never worry about the outcome. I am finally free.

It was a long, hard road... fighting the Shadows, Althedeus, Elithain Cross, Talador, the witch, Raznel, with her hordes of minions, watching Walkar fall into darkness; as well as issues much closer to home, the maiming of Phever, her healing and recovery, my own failures to both protect her and to keep my own mind free from shadow, and the loss of very dear friends.  I needed this rest and the peace it offered me.  I was physically and emotionally spent, I had nothing left to offer anyone, in the shape I was in, my decision-making was poor, and I was more hindrance than help to my fellow defenders.

I feel stronger now, more like the "me" of old, the fire has returned... and something else.  I have never had such clarity of thought nor such a burning desire to see my home, the Sea of Fire.  Never before, since leaving the sands, have I wanted to return to the place of my birth and training so badly; now it is consuming my thoughts, I dream of it almost nightly, and thankfully they are dreams, not the nightmares of before, when Shadow invaded in my mind, gnawed at my spirit, broke my heart, and darkened my soul.

The path to recovery has been long and at times very difficult.  I have stood aside and let recent events run their course, something completely foreign to me but I really had no choice.  To fight in the condition I was in would have done more harm than good; the last year and a half has taken a horrible toll.  My return to active participation will be slow, I will ease into things; take my time.

The fish continues to fight, but it is tiring; I will win this round.  I feel a strange sense of sadness as it comes to the surface, a nice fish, not a trophy, but a good catch nonetheless and I bring it in close.  The battle over, I reach down and grab the fish, quickly removing the hook from its lip and gently return it to the water, lightly stroking its belly until it swims off slowly; perhaps we will battle again another day... it seems there is always another battle to fight.

I have chosen a different course this time.  My destiny has led me to a fork in the road and a choice had to be made.  I have chosen the path of my birth mother; I will embrace her legacy, which I have spent years avoiding.  I will see rather than seek, I will listen to the wind rather than the multitudes, I will be that which I would have become had my life not changed so quickly and radically all those years ago.

The Blood Calls…1

"Where is it?" the thought screams in his head.  He is in a state of near panic as he rummages through the locker in Solhaven; he hates being here, he despises this place, this Empire town, with it's knights, magisters, and royalty; to think he fought and bled for this town many times over the years; the thought repulses him.

Curses, in a mixture of fractured and heavily accented common and Tehir, flow from his lips like water as his fervent and desperate search continues, the contents of the locker scattered upon the floor about him.  "It's not here" he mutters to himself as he angrily stuffs his possessions back into the locker, "only one place left to check." 

He makes the trip to the town of ice and snow and stands before his locker, the one he so rarely visits.  He remembers now, how and why it came to be here, so long ago, his fear, his shame, his secret, his denial.

Denial, he has spent a lifetime hiding behind it, using it as a shield to deflect the choices, the deeds, the pain and the memories... and the dreams.  Her words come back to him, clearly, as if she were standing right beside him in the small annex, "You will become that which you were always meant to be, nothing more, nothing less, it is the way of it."

He opens the door, feelings of sorrow and regret course through him as he digs through the contents of the locker.  Finally, he spots it beneath an old cloak, right where he left it, looking just as it did all those years ago. 

He picks it up and brings it close to his face, inhaling deeply, hoping her scent may still linger upon it.  It doesn't though; time and miles have erased that from everything except his memory.  He hangs his head, clutching the item to his chest and thinks to himself, "Not this, please, anything but this."

His hand, seemingly of it's own volition, opens the flap and he closes his eyes, afraid to look at the contents.  The voice reverberates once more in his mind, "You will become that which you were always meant to be."  Slowly, regretfully, he opens his eyes; eyes that have seen so much pain and death, eyes that are so very much like hers.

His gaze is drawn to one item among the many that are inside.  The way it is positioned makes it appear as a rounded chunk of stone, limestone, but he knows it is so much more; a small part of the violet geode at its center catches the light and sparkles, as if to confirm this.  His fingers touch it, knowing hers once did as well, and this thought brings with it a flood of memories and waves of remorse and anger, seething anger.

"I can't do this!" his soul and voice desperately cry, in unison.  "Nothing more, nothing less", her voice in his mind echoes in reply, "It is the way of it".  He slams the locker closed and begins his journey southward, the subject of his search tucked safely away in his ridgeweaver silk cloak.

One thought occupies his mind the entire way home... How will he ever explain this to Phever?

The Blood Calls…2

I make my way deep into the forest, moving swiftly, yet unseen and unheard, a way of movement so natural to me that I accomplish it without thinking.  The wood is quiet this morning; even the birds aren't awake yet.  The sun streaked braided leather satchel is heavy on my shoulder, though it weighs little; perhaps it is the weight of knowledge that burdens me, or that of fear.

I reach my chosen spot deep within the forest, a clearing beside a small brook.  I have come here many times before, to hunt, to fish, or merely to smoke a bowl of fine tobacco and to think.  Today will be different; there will be no hunting, no fishing, and no reflection with vanilla scented smoke swirling about my head.  I have a task to perform, the thought of which sends an involuntary shiver down my spine, as if a crow has walked across my grave.

I remove the meditation mat from my satchel, for it is my satchel now, it no longer belongs to her.  Her calling, once strong and powerful, is now mine; mine by birth, blood... and mine by death.  The calling comes to me by ancient rite and custom, those things that I have tried for so very long to deny and ignore, but to no avail.  What will happen will happen, regardless of our wants.  So I will answer the call, as, I suspect, I was always meant to.

I lay the meditation map on the ground and kneel at its center.  The thick morduska hide is buttery soft and welcoming.  It feels as if I belong here, as if this is my place in the scheme of things now.  This surprises me and at the same time frightens me; I had anticipated fear of the ritual, not a feeling of comfort and belonging.  I put these thoughts as far out of my mind as I can; they serve no purpose here.

I remove a few items from the satchel; a water filled flask, a vial of salt, a pinch of chalky red powder, and a handful of sand that glitters in the early morning light.  I purify the area around me with the water, salt, and the red powder, known as ochre.  My clan of Tehir prized red ochre as a cleansing and purifying medium.  I then cast a small handful of the sand into the soft morning breeze, asking for guidance and protection.

I place the used items, except for the flask of water, back into the satchel and remove four stones; a snakestone, a sunstone, a piece of malachite, and a feystone.  I place each stone upon one corner of the meditation mat.  I then reach back into the satchel and slowly, gently, almost fearfully; I bring the geode bowl forth, the bowl of sight, her bowl; and now, my bowl.

I fill the scrying device with the water from the flask and, holding the bowl in my hands, I close my eyes and clear my mind.  I begin the chant in Tehir that I remember from my youth, "Qorit e zome... uo e muttd... rievi e eizh."  (Water and sand... day and night... life and death).  "U'fizem, U'qirur, U'ebri."  (I see, I belong, I am).  I repeat this mantra, time and time again, my words barely above a whisper.

As I peer into the water, my blood runs cold, chilling me to my bones.  I shiver, even in the heat of the afternoon, as if a crow has walked across my grave.  It is not fear that causes this, as before.  Now, it is more of an understanding, somewhat, of the visions that the bowl brings to me.

Gradually, I feel my mind opening to the world around me.  I sense the field mouse scurrying under a fallen log, and the owl that watches it intently, waiting for just the right moment to strike from above.  I hear the cry of the eagle, high in the sky as it watches for any sign of movement from below.

Then, as if the clouds part after the summer storm, the bowl clears, I see her form, clothed in crimson, and she beckons me.  Her movements are graceful and somehow soothing, coaxing me to her.  I feel my mind begin to clear and my body relaxes as my consciousness drifts ever closer to her.  Finally, I am close enough to really see her, and our eyes are exactly the same, viridian-swirled twilight grey eyes.  This is my mother.  Then, I hear her voice, as if from far away.  "You are ready," she whispers to me.  "Answer the calling, open your eyes, and truly see."

Then, as quickly as it began, the vision is over.  Her message to me, coming from who knows where, is plain enough.  I take a few minutes, as I am packing up my things, to reflect on what I have seen and how it affects me.

I comprehend what I see now more than before, although what I do not understand is the why...  Why do I see?  Why does the sight come to me?  Certainly, my bloodline has something to do with it, but I was never trained as a Seer; my birth mother was killed before she really began my training. 

I do remember some things, conversations with her pertaining mostly to the dangers of what she did, of what she wanted me to do, what she wanted me to become.  I was so young that most of what she said I passed off as stories, perhaps stories for my entertainment, or to terrify me into good behaviour.

I am only now beginning to understand just how powerful my birth mother may have been, and the respect those who understood her power must have given her.  But I remember very little of her as anything other than my mother, she was never the First Seer to me. 

What I do remember is only snippets of memories, a glimpse here and there with her bowl before her, or her dachre box by her side.  Small flashes of insight where I see her drawing her dagger across an arm or an open palm, calling upon the power of her own blood for some ritual or other.

I fear the bloodletting, I worry that perhaps my taste for it will grow into something that consumes me, forcing me to greater and greater deeds with the power of blood...perhaps even becoming that which I despised during the war with Cross, a reckless blood mage who uses the blood of others for the power.

I am filled with a sense of foreboding when I delve into the realm of blood magic.  I feel the power calling to me, beckoning me to give more of myself than I am willing to give.  It is a constant whisper in my mind, endless, powerful, and, more worrisome than anything, I find myself listening more and more.

My mind reels with the questions I constantly ask myself.  How long can I continue to fight off the power of the blood?  Will I grow strong enough to become a threat or a danger to my friends, or will my strength enable me to push aside the wilful insistence of the blood that calls to me incessantly?  Will I remain myself, true to my beliefs, or will the blood and power determine who and what I am to become? 

Only time will tell, but I know I will fight, with my entire being, to remain that which I am; but I will not stop, I owe her that.  She knew I would answer my calling… that I would carry on her legacy, and to do that I must travel to the one place that I know will have the answers to my questions.  I must go home.

Back Into the Sands

I traveled for what seemed an eternity, though it was nowhere close to that; I suppose my excitement contributed to the feeling, that and my fear of what was to come.  It was a much more difficult journey this time around, perhaps because I'm older than I was the first time.

I have to admit though, I missed it; the heat, the sun, the Singing Sands… all of it.  To me there will never be anything to compare to The Sea of Fire, and it was worth the trip for that alone.  But I did not go there for only those reasons.  I went there to learn; once again, I put my faith in my people, and once again, I am indebted to them.

Travelling in the Sea of Fire poses risks to life and limb for even those born to it and trained to survive there.  I am grateful for the training I received as a young man, even though much of it was difficult and sometimes even quite painful; it allows me to call the Sea of Fire home, rather than Hell, as those fearful of it or unfamiliar with it tend to do. 

As I stated, I did not go to see the sights; I went to learn, from the best that I knew of.  I searched for a Mir'Sheq clan for one purpose…I wanted to learn how to see, how to understand what I saw, and to learn to hear the wind, as Teuriz told me to do.

One evening, shortly before sundown, I found what I was looking for, a sizeable clan of Mir'Sheq Tehir.  I announced my presence and waited for their Raiders to respond.  My hands were empty, palms facing them so they knew I concealed no weapons.  I was also in my black ridgeweaver silk Raider clothing, knowing full well what Tehir thought of Black Raiders.

The Raiders approached, and they surrounded me, with caution of course; after all, I was a stranger and had been gone for many years.  Their leader, a man of small stature but regal bearing, approached me; I neither spoke nor moved, knowing that my life depended on my actions and his interpretation of them.

The Raider leader spoke to me, in Tehir of course, asking my name and my reason for being there.  I looked straight into his eyes and said "I am Radeek Andoran, chosen as Black Raider, adopted son and only child of the Raider Leader G'Arrone and his wife, the healer and herb mistress K'miza, of the Mir’Sheq of the Scarlet Selshis Clan, and only son of Q'atild Andoran, my birth-mother, she who was Tasig-heqi and First Seer among the Mir’Sheq of the Spirit Qahzumar Clan and who, like the rest of my people, died at the hands of Knights of the Empire many years ago."

"And I am here because of this," I state as I slowly reached up with my right hand and removed my veil, exposing my scars, earned long ago through my Trials of Manhood.  

"I bear the scars, numbering twenty and two," I announce.  The Raider Leader studies my face and I see the recognition in his eyes, and the look of disbelief at what my scars mean to him.  I am Tehir.

The other Raiders also know what my scars mean, I am one who has completed all twenty-two of the Trials, and I bear the scars to prove it.  I can sense their growing interest in me, as can their leader.  The Raider leader offers me a skin of water, which I accept and drink from, sparingly, in true Tehir fashion, and I return it to him.  The offering of water is a traditional sign of peaceful greeting and, if not acceptance, then at least tolerance.  It appears I will live to see another dawn.

I am escorted into their camp and shown to one of the larger tents.  This is to be expected, unknown visitors are always brought before some sort of council, for formal introductions and questions.  I am offered food and water, which I avail myself of.  It's been a long while since I had good Tehir food.  Pasha's in Solhaven is passable, but not nearly as delectable as what is available among the Tehir.

Soon the leaders enter the tent.  I nod to each in greeting, waiting for them to speak; I do not have long to wait.  I am once again asked my name, which I give along with my ties and titles.  My scars are also once again inspected; this was not unexpected for it is not common for anyone to complete all twenty-two of the trials. 

The Seer of the Clan, an ancient woman clad in crimson named B'vaz, walks up to me and inspects my scars very closely.  She runs her fingers over each, her touch light, and gentle, her eyes closed.  When she finishes tracing the line of each scar, she opens her eyes and it is then I realize she is quite blind; her eyes are milky white orbs, the pupils nearly invisible.  However, even with her disability, this woman exudes power from her very core and she obviously is very well respected.

B'vaz turns her sightless gaze upon me and, in a voice much stronger than one would expect from her advanced years, states to me, "Radeek Andoran, son of the Seer Q'atild Andoran, you are welcome here.  I have been expecting you for many years, Black Raider.  I know what you seek and why you seek it, Child of sand, blood, death, and shadow.  What took you so long?"

I was surprised by her words.  I was… expected?  What took me so long?  I had no answer to the Seer's words; she chuckles at my obvious confusion and says,  "Son of Q'atild, you have spent too many years hiding in darkness from your calling and denying your birthright.  It is time, now, to set the scales in balance."  With that, she beckons to me and, turning, walks from the tent.

The others in the tent bow deeply and respectfully to me as they motion me to follow the aged Seer.  I exit the tent and follow B'vaz to a small pool of water that is off to the side, away from the main pool of the oasis, all the Tehir who cross our paths stop and bow respectfully to me.  I am exceedingly uncomfortable with this; I do not like to be bowed to… as I tell others who have bowed to me in the past, I am no knight of the Empire, expecting to be bowed to due to some self-perceived station in life.

Upon reaching the small pool B'vaz instructs me to disrobe and bathe in the pool, cleansing myself.  She gives me directions to her tent and bids me to come there once I finish; she then leaves me to my cleansing ritual.

Darkness falls as I sit in the water, which is still quite warm from the day's sun, and I reflect for a moment on what has just happened to me.  I have been welcomed by a strange clan of Tehir, a welcome that comes from a blind Seer who has evidently been expecting me for quite some time.  So, what happens now?  I suppose I'll find out soon enough.

I cleanse my body, using the root of a plant that the Tehir pound between two stones to extract the juices, which make a light lather and cleanses the skin rather well, leaving one feeling fresh and invigorated.  I un-do my braid and wash my hair along with the rest of my body.  After rinsing myself, I exit the pool, drying my body with some buttery soft skins that have evidently been placed close by for just such a purpose.  I also re-braid my hair and bind it with the old bowstring I use for just this purpose.

I dress and make my way to the tent of the old Seer and once again, I am the object of much attention and bowing, which only adds to my discomfort and uneasiness.  I try and ignore it as best as I can, but my heart is pounding in my chest and I have a queasy feeling in the depths of my stomach; I believe that very soon I will find out whether or not my quest has been in vain.

B'vaz is sitting cross-legged upon a woven mat on the floor of her tent as I announce myself and peer into the opening.  She bids me to enter and sit across from her on another mat.  As I do she offers me tea, which I accept.  I've never been a real fancier of tea, but I never minded some of the many herbal varieties found in Tehir encampments.  However, I prefer their coffee, it is second to none, and I've missed it.

As we drink our tea in silence for a few minutes, I study the inside of her tent.  There are a few low tables, each bearing different items, a bowl of dates and a traditional Tehir tea set on one, a worn old satchel heavily decorated with beads of bone and ivory is upon another.  A third, near where she is seated, is empty now.

A sleeping mat is laid out in one corner; numerous censures hang about the tent and the air is heavy with incense.  Many herbs have been placed on drying racks specifically designed for the purpose. 

Various objects, which I assume are used when she practices her art, are here and there; the skull of a rather large selshis, complete with fangs, various teeth and claws, some of which I recognize as belonging to the local fauna, others of which must have been traded for, and various stones and gems.  There are numerous vessels, mostly made of hammered copper, in orderly groups on low shelves along one wall of the tent.

As I sip my tea, I find this particular blend has a familiar taste to it, but I can't seem to place it.  I take another sip and contemplate this.  Suddenly, as if a bolt of lightning from the sky, it dawns upon me…this is the same tea my mother used to drink!  How could this be?

B'vaz begins chuckling, "How do you like the tea, Son of Q'atild?" she asks.  I look at her, and her sightless eyes, eyes that are obviously not her only way of seeing, stare back at me.  "How?" is my only reply.  The old Seer places her cup down upon the low table nearest her and folds her hands in her lap, gazing at me with her sightless eyes.  "I am going to tell you a tale Black Raider.  Perhaps it will explain some things to you."

'Your mother," B'vaz begins, "was at one time my acolyte; she wore the azure veils under my tutelage.  She came to me during her seventh summer, the youngest I have ever heard of to answer The Calling.  Never before, and not since, had I accepted a female acolyte who had not yet become a woman, but the power flowing in her veins was evident from the moment I first met her."

I am fascinated and anxious for her to continue but I try hard to remain patient; she will tell me in her own time.  "Q'atild was a remarkable child," B'vaz continues.  "Her sight was already well established within her when she arrived, as is yours, and her blood held power that even I could not begin to appreciate at the time, as I believe yours may.  She was a truly gifted girl; but, as with powerful gifts, there was a heavy price."

"Radeek, I trained your mother for nearly a decade, though in the end I was more student than teacher.  Not long before her departure a caravan arrived, bearing goods from the Empire, the province of Hendor."  B'vaz stops for a moment, retrieves her cup, and takes a sip of tea, collecting her thoughts. 

"Among the people of this caravan was an Imperial knight.  A tall, stately man, remarkably well built, strong and powerful, yet his eyes held a gentleness I had never before seen in a knight.  Your mother noticed this as well; behind the azure veils her eyes never left the knight."

B'vaz then closes her blind eyes and takes a deep breath, holding it for a moment before letting it out with an audible sigh.  "Black Raider," she says to me, "you must be willing to accept truth before your journey can continue.  Your days of denial are at an end.  Can you accept this?"

I do not hesitate as I say to her, "Yes, I accept this, the truth is all there is for me.  It is all I have left of my past life, and all I now want for this one."  She chuckles at this and mutters under her breath, "So very much like your mother, stubborn, strong-willed and obstinate.  Her price was also heavy."

"Son of Q'atild," B'vaz says to me, "your mother became enamored with this knight.  Her every waking thought was of him and he haunted her dreams.  I believe she was given a vision of him, or something to do with him, but she would never tell me, and by this time in her training she was far too powerful for me to ascertain her visions through any means I possessed of doing so."

"Radeek, this knight of the Empire, this warrior who so consumed your mothers thoughts, this man born of battle, he is your father.  I know this because when your mother left here, her training complete, she was with child.  That child, Radeek Andoran, Black Raider of the Mir'Sheq, bearer of the twenty-two scars, is you."

I am stunned, to say the least.  This cannot be true, it can't!  All these long years I've hated the Empire, with all my heart and soul, all that I am, my entire being.  I relished in killing them, I bathed in their blood, fed on their agony, and let their suffering at my hands assuage my anguish.  My mind screams in silent denial.  No!  Not this!  Anything but this!  This…THIS CANNOT BE! 

I can't breath!  There isn't enough air here!  I am suffocating!  My thoughts are confused and incoherent.  I stagger to my feet and stumble from the tent into the cool of the night.  I don't know whether to laugh or to cry, scream my anguish into the night or fall to my knees in silent defeat. 

B'vaz follows me into the night; she has a way of clicking her tongue that allows her to "see" through the sounds she makes.  When the old woman reaches me, she puts a hand gnarled with arthritis on my shoulder and gently applies pressure, indicating she wants me to sit in the sand.  My legs betray me and I end up falling to my knees, the old Seer kneels beside me.

"There is always a price Radeek Andoran, son of Q'atild," she says to me.  "Yours has been paid, many times over."  She reaches over, takes my hand in hers, and, drawing a dagger, drags the edge over my palm, making a shallow cut; the blade is razor-sharp, and I feel nothing.  She then licks the blade, her eyes closed in concentration, as my blood drips into the sand.

"Black Raider," she says, "Child of the Sands, much has happened to you; orphaned so young, earning the twenty two scars of our people, cast out from your people, murderer of an alliance bound in darkness, you turned your back to the Light, betrayed by your closest friends, touched by the Maw of the Void, Shadow has burdened and darkened your soul, your mind has been bent, and loss has stained your honor."

"You walked alone for years and your pain runs deep, but I see the touch of a blood mage upon you, a Tehir blood mage, and one who is very powerful.  This blood mage did you a service, for which you paid a price."  

Once more, she tastes of the blade, and, after a moment of contemplation, continues, "Your love for the raven-haired woman is exceedingly strong, it consumes you, but I see you have no fear of this, you even welcome it with all your heart, like a moth to a flame.  Very, very good, Black Raider."

A look of surprise crosses her features momentarily and she states, in a voice filled with incredulity, "Well now, this is certainly interesting.  You have shared your blood with this woman, and she with you... that is indeed a surprise.  The power of the bond of blood is second only to that of love, and I see you share both with this woman.  You each carry a part of the other everywhere you go, and that makes you very strong, son of Q'atild.  Your birth-mother would be proud."

"You have your mothers blood, Desert Strider, you are Tehir, through and through.  Tomorrow you will have answers to your questions.  You will soon hear the wind speak and know and understand what you see, and why.  Your mothers' legacy to you will be revealed, but you must find your own way.  You have been touched by Shadow and a powerful Blood Mage; the power of the Seer was opened to you then, from which I do not know, perhaps both...because of this, you do not need me to show you the way, only the why."

"Sleep now son of Q'atild," she says to me.  "There is a guest tent for your use.  Tomorrow is another day, and all will be as it should.  You are Tehir."  I proceed to the guest tent but sleep eludes me, too many thoughts are spinning through my head.  This cannot be true; I cannot be the son of an Imperial knight.  I can't…not me. 

Finally, through sheer exhaustion, I fall into a restless sleep; my dreams are of that one fateful night.  It is as it was, over thirty years ago; I hear the sounds of warfare, the cries of victory and defeat, the breaking lance, and that weight upon me.  I hear her words whispered in my ear once more, the last living words she ever uttered…

Dawn in the Sea of Fire is nearly always a spectacular event, one that I never truly appreciated until I left my home.  My restless sleep last night has left me with many more questions than answers.  I was up early, as has always been my custom, and I climbed the highest dune in the area and sat atop it, watching the sun begin to lighten the eastern sky with hues of scarlet and violet, my thoughts a jumbled mess in my head.

The encampment below me is beginning to come to life; I smell the fires and the morning meals being prepared.  People are moving about, mostly younger Tehir doing their morning chores, but there is the old Seer, clad in crimson, and I can see her looking in my direction.  Somehow, she knows where I am and probably knows what I am thinking.

As the sun rises higher the sky takes on tinges of orange and yellow, and the winds begin.  I rise to my feet and make the trek back down to the encampment.  The young Tehir stop what they are doing and watch as I pass, a stranger in a familiar land, and I head to the Seers tent.  She is waiting for me with a cup of hot coffee and a light meal of porridge and some sweet cakes; we eat in silence. 

After we finished breaking our fast, an acolyte, clad in azure veils, removes the remains of the food and brings in more coffee; it is a dark, rich brew, strong and bitter.  It is only then that the Seer speaks to me.

"Son of Q'atild," she says, "you slept little last night, and what sleep you did get was plagued with visions and dreams.  Tell me of them, tell me of your mothers death, and tell me of her legacy to you."

This I do, telling her all I know about that night; she listens in silence, nodding occasionally.  I tell her of the morning after, of the death of Vamek, the burned girl that I released from her agony, of being found by G'Arrone and his raiders and my subsequent adoption, and of my fear and pain.  It all comes pouring out of me; there is no stopping it.

The tears begin as I tell her of my birth-mothers last words to me, whispered into the ear of a seven year old man-child, as her life's blood poured into the sand, a life given to save another… her life, sacrificed, so that a young boy, me, might live.  I cannot describe the agony I was feeling at that moment; it was as if my entire life was spread out before me, all the details, all the faults, all the mistakes, and it was found to be lacking, wanting, and needless.  The killing, the hate, the sacrifice, the loneliness… was all for naught.

She watches me, her face showing no emotion, no feeling, giving no hint to what she is thinking.  Then, a smile spreads across her face, and suddenly she begins to laugh, an uproarious, cackling laugh.  At that moment, all I want to do is to take her scrawny neck into my hands and squeeze with all my might.

In the midst of her laughter she says to me, "Son of the most powerful Seer I have ever known, child born to the sands, forged in war, haunted by Shadow… surely you are no fool; your scars bear solemn testament to that fact, Black Raider.  You, whose path is so narrow that you walk upon the edge of a blade, yet you allow yourself to be swayed by my words, you have doubts about who and what you are… yet again."

"Nothing I have told you changes anything," she says.  "You are who you were, who you are, and you will be who you will be.  The knowledge you have gained should change NOTHING, but it does to you, and that, Radeek Andoran, is the mark of a fool."

The old Seer chuckles once again.  "You think that you are different now because you now know that you are the son of a knight of the Empire; you fear that all you did was wrong, a mistake.  Or perhaps you believe that what she did was a mistake…"

The old woman reaches out and takes my shaking hand into hers, her grip like iron.  "The blood in your veins is Tehir, Black Raider," she says.  "The Calling you have answered makes you nothing else."  B'vaz releases my hand and lies back on the cushions surrounding her.  "You blame her, don't you?" she asks.

I close my eyes and take a shuddering breath, the anguish within me trying to get out.  "Yes," I reply, in a voice barely above a whisper.  The Seer pours herself another cup of coffee and turns her gaze to me, the vehemence evident in her voice.  "Then you truly are a fool, Desert Strider.  You cloud what you know to be the truth with arrogance, prejudice, avarice, self-pity and ignorance.  Surely you are not so stupid as that, are you?"

Her voice and her countenance soften and she says to me, "You are a child of love, Radeek; your mother loved the knight, and he loved her, if only for a brief time.  You have that same love in your own life, son of Q'atild, surely you know from your own experiences with the raven-haired lass that love takes on a life of its own and the power of it cannot be denied nor overcome.  Your mother knew what she was doing, and I think I know why."

This piques my interest even more; even a hint of what my mother may have been thinking when she chose a knight, some reason for what she did, and why.  But then I think to myself, does any of this really matter?  The old woman says I can change nothing, and nothing has changed for me; I suppose that means it is for purely selfish reasons that I need to know why.

B'vaz sips her coffee as she considers her next words, words that are so very important to me.  "Radeek," she says, "your mother was a very powerful woman, especially so for one so young.  She knew she would never be welcome in the land of the knight and that he would never be accepted among our people.  So she chose instead to have a child by him, one who would be raised and trained as Tehir, but could walk in both worlds, if he so chose, as you now do."

"I also believe," she continues, "that she knew everything that would happen on that fateful night from your childhood; as I said, she was very powerful, her blood magic was incredibly strong, as was her gift of foresight.  I am convinced she knew all and was ready for it; and all that happened since, she was prepared for, including all things pertaining to you."

I begin to see the reasoning behind my mother's choices; it begins to dawn on me just how powerful and wise she must have been, to see so much, to have understood what she saw, and to be able to react and plan accordingly. 

B'vaz says to me, "Enough of this talk of the past, it cannot be changed, only learned from.  Besides, you are here about your future and what is to become of you, are you not?  Since we cannot change the past it would seem wise to dwell on the present and the future, wouldn't you agree?"  I nod in assent; anticipation and a sense of lingering dread are in my mind.  The questions I've had for years are about to be addressed…I wonder if I'll like those answers.

I hold the blade of the dagger in the flame, allowing the heat to purify the instrument of my self-inflicted pain and suffering; just one of the tools I use to enhance my own ability to see and to understand.  The methods used by the Tehir for blood magic and scrying are ancient beyond belief, passed down from generation to generation by the elders, those with the knowledge and the power to control it, to bend it to their will.

I gain in knowledge and power each day, the sight comes easier, and lasts longer each time, more vivid and easier to understand and interpret.  My mentor seems pleased with my progress; lately she seems to be gently reminding me of things rather than screaming at me when I do something that is not quite right.  Her knowledge is profound, in the extreme.

I've been away from home for nearly two months now.  I miss Phever so much I can't even begin to put it into words; once again, she sacrifices for me.  Thoughts of her are a distraction at times, and B'vaz constantly berates me, reminding me to concentrate, allowing nothing to keep me from my goal, but I don't care.  She tells me "the raven-haired one will still be there when I go back."

She has been teaching me the history of the Tehir as well, passing down the knowledge accumulated over centuries of life in the Sea of Fire.  She tells me that to have a partial understanding of anything is more dangerous than having no knowledge at all and is determined that I will be well rounded in the lore's and histories of my people.  B'vaz has told me that I must pass this gift on to those Tehir who would listen.  She is bound and determined that I know the histories forward, backward and inside out. 

B'vaz takes great pains to remind me that, even blind, she sees things more clearly than I.  She says that to see one must close their eyes and look only deep into oneself.  When you get deep enough to see your own baser emotions like pain, anger, hatred, and sorrow, and you can lay them aside, only then are you ready to see the beyond.  I have a lot to lay aside.

I have been using my mothers scrying bowl more than any other item, which pleases B'vaz immensely, she had it made for my mother when she showed an affinity for scrying in that fashion.  My teacher has taught me how to use my own blood to achieve a focus that is not normally achieved when scrying with water alone and it has made it much easier for me to be successful in my attempts to see.

B'vaz introduced me to blood magic, the Tehir style of it anyway, on the third day I was here.  She says there is limitless power in blood; the limits are placed on it by our own will, or lack of it.  I can understand now why the Empire and the Hall of Mages fear it so very much, anyone can have this power at their disposal, and the potential for great evil cannot be over-stated.

My dabbling into the realm of Blood Magic is not something I am proud of; I remember all too well the way Elithain Cross and the Maw of the Void used the power of blood against us.  I do not know if I possess the strength of will to keep from using the blood magic for ill gains and this troubles me greatly; hence I have been using it only sparingly and for the purposes of protection and focus only.

B'vaz has taken a keen interest in the visions that were given to me by the Shadows; she says they are what released the Seer in me, what brought forth the Tehir blood and the desire to seek out and learn from one who knows.  Or perhaps Teuriz had something to do with it, by performing the blood ritual that restored Phever's physical scarring and my mental and emotional scars.  I don't know; I only know my need and desire began at that time.

Today I joined the Raiders of this encampment on a hunt; B'vaz said I needed a break and to make myself useful.  Eclipse joined us and I believe the other Tehir were very impressed with her intelligence and her abilities.  Wolves are uncommon to the Tehir, even in the borderlands.  Tales and stories are told of them from long ago, quite possibly from a time before the Tehir inhabited the Sea of Fire. 

Fresh Morduska meat, I have not had that in a very long time, and it was delicious, though the hunt was tainted due to a death.  Sometimes a large Morduska lays claim to a raider before it gives up and this happened today.  The Morduska killed a young Raider; he was barely sixteen summers.  Impatience and inexperience contributed to the death I am sure and the desert is a cruel mistress at the best of times.

My training at the hand of B'vaz is nearly complete; she says time and experience are now my best teachers.  I have grown fond of the old Seer in my time here and I believe that, through her association with my mother all those years ago, she has taken me as a sort of surrogate grandson.  I remember the first time I used my mothers scrying bowl in her presence, I heard her sharp intake of breath when she saw it so I handed it to her.  She cradled the bowl to her breast and I swear I saw a tear on her cheek.  She loved my mother, I have no doubt.

I will miss the old woman who taught me so much in such a short time; I owe her more than I can ever re-pay, though she says she did it for the memory of Q'atild, my birth mother.  Her last words to me upon our parting were, "Walk with the sun, Black Raider and son of Q'atild.  She would be so proud of you."

I left B'vaz and the rest of the Tehir clan and made my way home; it was good to see the Sea of Fire again and to be with my own people, but I wanted to go home, to Phever, the Landing, and our friends.  I had what I had come for: knowledge and a sense of peace and accomplishment.  Though I am still troubled over the matter of my parentage, I can do little about it.  You can always pick your friends, but you have no choice about your relatives. 


There are times when the wind whispers to me; the voice is there, always, waiting to be heard.  I see more than I did before, with clarity and understanding.  The bowl, and all that goes with it, is no longer my mothers; it is mine, by rites of blood and strength of will.  I now hold my head high with dignity, honor, and determination, as I once did many years ago, before the fall into darkness.

I am Radeek Andoran, General of the Drakes Vanguard, Citizen and Defender of Wehnimer's Landing, son of Q'atild Andoran, she who was First Seer and Tasig-heqi of the Spirit Qahzumar Clan.  I am the Black Raider of the Mir'Sheq, bearer of the scars numbering twenty and two, I answered the Calling and  have claimed my legacy.  I walk with the sun.  I am Tehir, and I See.