ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2

CHAPTER 20 - YINNO (Part 2)

Halfway through the fifth day after their departure from the Commandery they came upon a group of riders.

‘Nomads,’ Olle said. ‘A hunting party, apparently.’

‘Really, my lord Duke?’ Ghyll said, seeing several of the men had the carcasses of small gazelles thrown over the rear of their horses.’

‘Absolutely, Royal Highness,’ Olle replied with a straight face.

The two groups halted at some distance from each other. One of the nomads lifted his hunting spear and shouted something Ghyll didn’t understand. Zino replied in the same language, and the man brought a hand to his heart and bowed.

‘You know their speech?’ Ghyll asked in surprise. ‘What did he say?’

‘He wanted to know if we came for battle or for hunting. I said we were passing through and that we appealed to their hospitality.’

‘Apparently that was the right answer. What language do they speak?’

‘A corrupted form of the Old Abarranese tongue, I know more or less what they’re saying, but don’t expect miracles.’

‘That you understand it is wonderful enough, Zino,’ Ghyll said.

‘I taught myself. Our library at home contains many books and writings from before the Dead Centuries and I wanted to read them.’

The nomad waited politely until the prince had finished and then laid a hand on his chest. ‘Kayauchi.’

Zino gestured at Ghyll and said, ‘Ghyllander, miannoo tso-wain Rhidauna.’

The nomads raised a wailing cry, covered their faces with their hands and then raised them in the direction of the sun.

‘That is an expression of respect,’ Zino said. ‘I said you are the chief of chiefs of Rhidauna; they don’t know the title of king. They showed that your light blinds them as does that of the sun.’

‘See,’ Ghyll said. ‘Even foreigners admit it.’

‘Oh yes,’ Kerianna whispered mockingly. ‘You are dazzling, dear.’

Ghyll glanced at her, but she smiled sweetly.

‘The speaker is called Kayauchi,’ Zino translated. ‘As far as I understand, he is the nephew and successor of the chief of the Yinno. That makes him a sort of prince.’

Ghyll put his hand on his heart and bowed, at which the nomads smiled and clapped their hands,

‘Was that all right?’ Ghyll asked worriedly. Kayauchi said something and Zino nodded.

‘A little too much honor for someone of his rank, but they didn’t mind. This only enhances Kayauchi’s status.’

The nomad prince pointed to the southwest. ‘Yinno-chau,’ he cried.

‘There lies Camp Yinno. I think they want us to go with them.’

‘Well, let him show the way.’

Kayauchi’s smile widened and he turned his horse on its hind legs. With a sweep of his arm, he motioned them to follow him.

Yinno was, as one would expect from a nomadic tribe, a settlement of tents. It was erected on a height along a wide river, in a large circle around a kraal of longhaired cattle with a single large horn above their noses.

Kayauchi pointed and grinned at Ghyll. ‘Zibul,’ he said proudly.

They halted in front of a large round tent. A beaded curtain for the entrance kept the flies out and let fresh air inside.

Inside it was dim. Their guide led them to the other end, where an image stood of a god Ghyll couldn’t immediately place. On the ground before the image sat a burly man in a leather harness. Given his likeness to Kayauchi, this must be the chief of the Yinno. To his left sat an old man in a long robe adorned with feathers, beads and small animal bones. To his right sat a boy of about fifteen, with a tanned face and close-cropped black hair. He wore a robe like that of the old man, but without decorations.

Kayauchi made the same gesture as Ghyll had done, with his hand on his heart. He said something unintelligible. The big man gazed up at his visitors with a look of amazement and rose. He also gave the wailing cry of respect, immediately repeated by everyone in the tent. A few women came rushing with beautifully decorated pillows and placed them in a circle in front of the chief.

‘Greetings to you, King Ghyllander,’ the chief said. ‘I’m Zenyuun, tso-wain of the Yinno. Please tell me how we can ease your way.’

Ghyll sank down into the cushions with a sigh of relief that he could talk directly with the chief.

‘Thank you for your words, tso-wain Zenyuun. Our road is long and the hospitality of the Yinno is legendary. We are happy to be here.’

The chief chuckled. ‘Well said, King. Rhidauna is clearly a civilized country. Come, enough compliments.’ He put his hand on the arm of the old man next to him. ‘This is Engabor, the tianthuu of our tribe.’

The old priest nodded and the bones in his hair danced up and down. ‘Your path is longer than you think, O King, and darker.’ His Abarranese sounded solemnly old fashioned, but understandable. ‘Don’t despair, Miyandor will assist you.’ He made a vague gesture towards the image of the god behind him and both the chief and the boy next to him muttered something in turn.

‘Miyandor?’ Ghyll asked politely.

‘Miyandor, Lord of the Spirit World; First Father of Fathers, Master of the Spiriti.’

‘Ah, Greos.’

‘To that name he listens as well, O King.’

Ghyll made the correct sacred gesture and the old man nodded.

Thereupon Ghyll presented his wife. Kerianna bowed and suddenly flashed her knife in her fist. Ghyll held his breath, but the chief grunted approvingly.

‘Wife and defender,’ he said. ‘Good.’ The Yinno gave another wail. From the dim right a wiry woman came forward and joined Zenyuun. ‘My wife Gzorhane,’ the chief said. When Zino was named, he added Kayauchi to the company. At Torril’s name he paused a moment. Then he squared his shoulders and pointed to the boy to his right. ‘My son, Anliin-an-Shi. He’s not much, but he is my son.’

Gzorhane threw her husband an unreadable glance. The boy himself blushed unhappily.

The priest glanced thoughtfully at Ghyll and nodded, as if he’d come to a decision. Ghyll wondered what was going on with the boy, but he pretended that he hadn’t noticed anything.

With all companions introduced, a whole crowd sat around the chief. Apparently, it was the custom for every visitor to be balanced with a nomad of the same status.

‘We will talk, you and I,’ Zenyuun said firmly. ‘And tonight is a feast. Let us show Rhidauna how the Yinno live.’

Gzorhane stood up and gestured. Kerianna and Uwella followed her to the right side of the tent, where apparently the female nomads gathered.

Torril looked at Anliin. The boy stood up and bowed to his father. Then he seized Torril’s arm and pulled him outside. When the fly curtain fell behind them, the boy took a deep breath and grinned. He said something that the Nhael couldn’t understand and ran away. Torril needed no challenge and gave chase. Anliin was fast, but so was Torril, and soon the two boys ran side by side. After four laps around the camp, Anliin made for the river. On a large rock that hung half over the water he stopped and took off his robe. He stood there, wiry and stark naked, and jumped from the cliff into the icy water. Torril undid the straps of his leather tunic and let it fall on the rock. His boots and pants followed. At the tip of the rock, he paused for a series of rapid breathing exercises. Below him, he heard Anliin jeer and then he dived down like an otter. He swam across the bottom to the other boy and pulled him by his ankle underwater. He let go immediately and rose up to breathe. Beside him, he heard Anliin snorting and coughing. Very deliberately, he stuck out his tongue.

Anliin grabbed his shoulders and tried to push Torril’s head under water. But it was clear he wasn’t going to succeed and soon he stopped trying.

When they had swum enough, they lay on the rock in the sun until they were dry. Neither of them said a word, but they were fully content with each other’s company.

Meanwhile, in the big tent, Ghyll, chief Zenyuun and the old death priest Engabor were deep in conversation.

Ghyll had given them a summary of all their trouble with the Dar’khamorth over the last months. When the name of the Owan Abai fell, the tent became eerily quiet. Zenyuun seemed to shrink a little and the priest froze, his eyes staring ahead. Minutes passed until Engabor relaxed and began to breathe again. He nodded.

‘So it must be.’ His deep eyes turned to Ghyll. ‘You must leave tomorrow. There is no time to lose. And when you go you will take Anliin with you.’

Zenyuun made an involuntary movement. ‘Why?’ he said softly.

‘Anliin is a tianthuu,’ the old man said gravely. ‘At least, he shows all the signs of being a tianthuu. He has the power, he has all the knowledge I could give him, but one way or another it doesn’t work for him.’ The priest paused. ‘You may not realize exactly what a tianthuu is, King. You know them as death interpreters, followers of Him whom you called Greos. Our interpreters speak with our dead ancestors, asking their help and their blessing for everything we do. Without the approval of our ancestors, no Yinno can married, no major sales can be concluded, or any decisions taken. And only the tianthuu in their trance state can contact those-who-have-gone-before.’

He looked searchingly at Ghyll. Then he raised his thin hand with three fingers spread out. ‘This many tianthuu are born each generation, for all the tribes together; three boys or girls who have the power to speak with our ancestors. You understand how precious such a one is for us. Blessed was our tso-wain when it appeared his only child had that rare gift. A successor to the chieftaincy was important, but this was infinitely more so.’

Zenyuun shifted on his pillow, as if he felt uncomfortable. The priest went inexorably on. ‘Can you imagine how difficult it is for everyone? The boy has all the gifts, but he cannot apply them. If he goes into trance, something keeps him from making contact and we don’t know what. Our God has been silent about it so far – until now. Just now, I had a vision. I saw the Owan Abai, where no Yinno has been in centuries. I heard the voice of Miyandor, who said to me, Send the Flawed One with the Champion of Champions and let him go. Hesitate no longer, time is running out. Thus spoke Miyandor and so will be done.’

‘My son is dead.’ Zenyuun said it soberly, but his eyes betrayed him.

‘Those were not Miyandor’s words, tso-wain. Let him go, the God said.’

‘The Yinno that goes to the Owan Abai, dies. None of us ever returned from that cursed place.’

‘The ways of the gods are not always clear,’ Ghyll said. ‘Torril, the boy who left with your son, has a similar prediction hanging over his head.’ Briefly, he told of the Widderska’s call.

Engabor sat silent for a while. ‘Miyandor has plans for both boys. If He calls them to Himself, so be it,’ he said finally. ‘We can only do His will.’

‘How do I tell this to Gzorhane? Even now, she hardly speaks to me. She must think I sent Anliin away deliberately, to be rid of him.’

‘Show some weakness for once,’ Ghyll said. ‘Show her how difficult this decision is for you.’

‘That’s not our way,’ Zenyuun said hesitantly. ‘But I will try.’

That night there was a feast in the Yinno camp. Large fires lighted the endless fields and the gazelles the hunters had brought turned on spits over glowing charcoal.

‘Here, taste this,’ Anliin said to Torril. Not with words, but they had come so far that they didn’t need speech to understand each other completely. Torril looked at the bowl that was held up to him, filled to the brim with a thin, white liquid. Carefully the boy took a sip and exclaimed, ‘By the gods! Shambor!’ Anliin blinked. He seemed a little disappointed that his new friend knew the drink already.

‘Shambor?’ He shook his head. ‘Yiminai,’ he said firmly. Over his shoulder he pointed to the zibul in their kraal made a gesture as if he were milking a cow.

Torril nodded. ‘Moooo,’ he cried, and they shrieked it out with glee.

Loud laughter came from the direction of the fires. Yinno wrestlers had given a demonstration of their skills and the winner, to the hilarity of all, had challenged Olle. Ghyll’s brother jumped up and took off his tunic. He had already seen a few rounds and knew the style of wrestling he had learned, was different from the local. Where he was accustomed to pin his opponent to the ground and hold him there until the time was up, here the rule was that the loser was the one who first touched the ground with both shoulders. The Yinno, a broad-shouldered young man with a pockmarked face and long hair, came secure in his previous victories. Olle moved back and forth on his feet. He tensed and relaxed, rolling his biceps, and watched his opponent with a look cold enough to chase away wild beasts.

The nomad seemed to lose some of his confidence and stepped forward. Olle met him and without ado, threw his arms around him. The Yinno slowly purpled, straining to get a grip on Olle’s broad back. In vain, for inch by inch he was forced to the ground. Just when everyone thought Olle would break the man’s back, he kicked the nomad’s legs from under him, so that both of his opponent’s shoulders touched the ground.

The spectators watched in amazement how Olle beat their champion in only a few minutes. When the duke shook hands with the loser, helped him up and slapped his shoulder, the Yinno began cheering and clapping. With his arm around the nomad, Olle walked back to his seat. He called to a girl with a leather yiminai sack and held up two fingers. The girl squirted the milky liquid into two cups and handed them to Olle. He gave one to the defeated champion and toasted him with the other cup. Then he drained his cup in a single gulp. The Yinno followed his example, and hurried back to his friends, to be welcomed back with laughter and much teasing.

Later that evening, when they went to bed, they missed Torril. Eventually Zino and Damion found him with Anliin, snoring side by side in the shadow of Zenyuun’s tent.

‘Let them lie,’ the prince said with a grimace. ‘You don’t want the smell of sour milk in our tent.’

‘Drunk on zibul piss,’ the beastmaster said disapprovingly. ‘Children!’

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