Excerpt for Goshen Sagas: Gawei Romance by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Goshen Sagas:

Gawei Romance

Written by Cody Collins

World by Dillon Sapp and Cody Collins


All Rights Reserved

Goshen Sagas Copyright © 2017 by Cody Collins and Dillon Sapp

Days of Strife Copyright © 2017 by Dillon Sapp and Cody Collins

The Grey March Copyright © 2017 by Dillon Sapp

Gawei Romance Copyright © 2017 by Cody Collins

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of the copyright holders.


Firstly, thanks to Dillon Sapp for co-creating this story and world with me. Can’t do this stuff without you, my friend!

Thanks to Al Bani for the great cover art and interior map.

Mom, Jr, the rest of my family, I love you all very much.

And Thanks to you, Reader, without your interest this is just a bunch of words on a page.

My Dad, whom I miss everyday, Michael Hadley Sr.

Table of Contents

Title Jen 4

Copyright Moto 8

Dedication Natelmel 6

Table of Contents Moto 9


Natelmel 1

Odain 1

Natelmel 2

Moto 1

Moto 2

Natelmel 3

Jen 1

Moto 3

Odain 2

Moto 4

Jen 2

Natelmel 4

Moto 5

Moto 6

Jen 3

Natelmel 5

Moto 7


The sparse savannah was cut by the wide and deep Ran-nu River. On its north bank, the sounds of combat echoed out across the plains. A disciplined force has been working long and hard to slaughter and subjugate the indigenous populace on these foreign fields. Again the foreigners have engaged the natives to continue the battle that has pulsed for the better part of the day.

“Forward!” The command rang out once again, the tan-faced infantry advanced. Like a wave, they pushed against their enemy, men dark of face and riding agile but exhausted snow-colored mounts. The infantry thrust their spears as they closed with the cavalry, the spearheads found their spots in the mounts and their riders. Pressed back, the mounted forces withdrew, whirled their lines, and retaliated, releasing volleys of javelins at the foreign spearmen. A great many of the short spears finding marks in the opposing army’s black and red clothed chests. As the battle dragged on, the copious amounts of the fallen littered the whole of the field while the wounded men and mounts cried out, filling the ears of friend and foe.

The battle lulled once again and the two forces fell back a short way to rest their men for another melee.

“Sir, we are edging the enemy back, they are nearing the river’s shore,” A black and red clothed runner announced, his black hair soaked in sweat from the exertion of his duties and the heat on the plains.

A grizzled man paused a moment from pouring over documents to press his hair, black splashed with white, out of his eyes with his hands, their tan flesh leathery from his years of labor. His caramel eyes fluttered as he read each line of his papers. His face, marked with scars from the numerous battles he’d fought, the battles he won, crinkled as he mouthed along. This was his command, and he would win again.

“Tiki!” the commander called to a finely dressed young man, his attendant.

“My cloak,” the man commanded Tiki.

The commander laced up his glistening black armor, dented from years of use. His attendant threw the Crimson cape over the shoulders of the aged man, fastening it to his armor, then presented his sword. The blade was old but sharp and strong as ever, shining silver white from its metal.

“Gather the men.”

The man waved off the messenger. He knew the situation, he had planned for it.

Out on the field, the spearmen broke their press against the cavalry and the two forces fell back as they neared the banks of the river.

“Men, I know you‘ve fought hard but it’s not over yet, so take pride in yourselves, and show the enemy your strength,” the commander called to his weary men.

“For Gawei!” He cried.

“For Gawei!” The men echoed.

With renewed vigor the Gawei spearmen pressed on the cavalry, as the commander lead them in a charge. The commander, in his black and crimson garb, flew straight up the middle of the field and cut down one of the mounts as they engaged. The spearmen slashed and stabbed hard against the mounted men, while the cavalry peppered the commander’s forces with javelins, still the spearmen pushed their enemy back.

“This was the sign,” Colin Mino thought to himself. He was a man in his prime, like the rest of the spearmen his skin was a natural tan, his shaved head beaded with sweat from the heat. His once frenzied beard was now tamed by the water and his clothing was soaked from the swim. He wiped the water from his eyes, their chocolate color shines in the approaching twilight.

“Forward!” Mino cried to his men and rushed from the reeds of the bank, while the soldiers did as they were bid. One hundred men charged into the rear of the enemy, sending the riders and mounts into a panic. The new force slashed and stabbed as the main army joined the fray and redoubled their assault. As the spears of both sides failed, the forces switched to back up weapons.

“Gods damn it!” Mino shouted as he thrust his spear into a dismounted warrior as the warrior hurled a spear.

In moments the mounted men broke, whatever remained of the cavalry began to flee from the field. Some attempted to push through the spears and were slaughtered to a man, others broke out and fled west along the river, and still some others even attempted to cross the river and left their mounts to drown when they could no longer stand the current.

“Victory!” The red-cloaked commander of the winning spearmen shouted. He thrusted his sword into the air to encourage Mino and the others, blood slowly pouring from his eye.

Around the victorious forces lay the bodies of hundreds of men from both armies. In the water was another great many bodies, carcasses of the mounts and their riders choking the river.

Mino looked at one of the beasts and riders lying dead at his feet. The beast was once a grand animal, standing to the shoulder, its head crowned with an intricate antler sprouting from the center of it‘s head. But no longer, now one of the antlers lay on the ground, the other chipped and cracked, the beasts white fur splattered red with its own blood and that of its rider.

“Doharn, The Ran-nu call them,” one of Mino’s soldiers stated as he kicked over the rider’s corpse, rifling through his clothes for valuables. The dead Ran-nu’s dark face, now paler, drained in death, is frozen in a scream. His mouth was caked with his own blood. His black eyes stareed in anguish. A broken spear stuck in his chest while his pick, made of a wooden shaft and doharn antler, was still in hand.

Two winters had passed since the battle as Mino returned home from the forest after another walk. The village was calm, tranquil, the years of battle lay far in his past. In front of him was a small wooden shack, backdropped by a lush green forest, while smoke poured from the chimney. As he approached the hut, an infant child, a boy of little more than a year, crawled to him and grabbed at his leg.

“Moto my boy,” said Mino as he bent and picked up his son, cradling him in his arms.

“Victory,” Mino thought as he held his son to his chest.

Natelmel 1

“Take back our home.”

A bedridden Ran-nu man said, his once black hair now white, showing his years. His coal-colored eyes glistened and a tear fell down his face. At his side, a man in his mid 20’s sat, his short black hair unkempt and shaggy. He grasped the, now lifeless, hand of the man on the bed. “Father,” he whispered, then wailed to the heavens, his dark face and black eyes soaked in his grief.

He sat there, heartbroken, grieving, and sobbing, until the worst of his sorrow had passed then the man emerged from the white woolen tent. A dozen men and their families stood all about him as he did while the nearby fields were painted white as the doharn grazed.

“Natelmane has died,” he announced to the bevy of sullen faces, “I, Natelmel, as his son, shall take his place as the chief of this Rut.”

Several weeks went by, while the men and women of his Rut made their way to see him. One by one, they swore to follow him as their Chief, all the while his father’s words turned and turned in Natelmel’s head.

“Take back our home.”

“How can I do that,” Natelmel thought to himself, as he looked out at the people, his Rut.

Finally he felt decided, so he announced to the assembly of families, ”Come, we must ride.”

“Where are we supposed to be going?” one of his Rut questioned, the questioner was a man a winters Natelmel’s elder, his dark hair just starting to show gray and the corners of his raven eyes had begun to wrinkle, but they still shone with a fire and intelligence.

“We have a great many things to do, Odain. For starters we are going to the neighboring encampments,” Natemel responded, “So you and others, get in your saddles.”

The Rut rode hard along the hidden paths of the mountains, the paths were overgrown with Wyrmwood trees, and other various plants, in many places. So much so that their doharn could barely pass. But Natemel and the Rut pressed on until they finally came to a valley and their destination.

“Hold, wait here,” Natelmel commanded, “I must go in alone.”

He dismounted his pure white doharn, leaving his men on the edge of the tribe.

As he marched into the camp, about him were dozens of hardy Ran-nu men and their families. In the fields, groups of the children laughed and played, frollicing among the Doharn.

Natelmel was flanked by two of the local chief’s guard as he made his way through the camp. After a short journey, the three men came to the chief’s hut, then one of the guards parted the flaps and urged Natelmel inside. He stepped through, inside sat the chief in a well-crafted wyrmwood chair, a densely muscular Ran-nu, around the same age as Odain, a javelin across his lap. Strewn about his tent, three beautiful Ran-nu women slept, their clothes were tossed about the floor.

“Chief Nevtor, I have come here to ask for your support,” Natelmel stated, a certain assurance in his voice.

Nevtor leaned in, visibly puzzled, he asked, “What is it, trouble with the other tribes?”

“No, Chief Nevtor, I have a plan. I’m going to take back our lands from the Gawei,” Natelmel declared.

“HA HA HA!” Nevtor bellowed, the women about the tent stirred slightly.

“You? You have a single Rut, and you’re scrawny, weak. No, you’ll never defeat the Tan face,” Nevtor dismissed him.

“That is why I’m here, I must ask for your loyalty, and your men,” Natelmel implored.

“Baw ha ha ha,” The chief roared once again and again the women in the tent stirred.

“What need of you, do I have?” he stated, spreading his arms, motioning to women in his tent and Evot of men outside.

“No, I have no interest in taking on the Tan faces, nor indulging your silly wishes. Begone,” he declared, the two guards stepped forward and returned to Natelmel’s flank. Natelmel shook his head.

“I had hoped for something from this,” He thought to himself, dejected. As the three left the tent, Natelmel’s ambitions twisted about in his gut and, again, his father’s command echoed in his ears, “Take back our home.”

“I have to do something,” Natelmel told himself outside the tent, he twirled around.

“I say to everyone here, Nevtor is weak and frightened. He is afraid of the Gawei and I find him unfit to be a chief of any Ran-nu,” he shouted to the men and women in the village.

“Leave behind his weakness and stupidity, follow me and I will take you home,” he declared.

From the chief’s tent, Nevtor raged and furiously charged out through the flaps.

”You foolish little prick!” Nevtor raged, “I’ll have your tongue, you erak shit.”

“I demand you face me,” Natelmel yelled before the whole Evot.

Nevtor smirked, “When I’ve killed you, I’ll leave your body unburned, a feast for the blaraks and lining for their holes.”

“Your men will bow to me and join my Evot, your wives and daughters will fill my tent,” Nevtor boasted.

The two men now squared off, a javelin and blade each, Nevtor a head taller and nearly half as much heavier in muscle.

“You are an idiot,” Natelmel chided himself.

“What the hell are you going to do now,” he wondered as he looked over the hulk in front of him.

Nevtor thrust his javelin, Natelmel jumped clear.

“You’re dead, you prick.” Nevtor hissed, slashing with his javelin, again Natelmel dodged. The fight carried on, Natelmel dodging as Nevtor twirled his javelin and slashed at Natelmel.

“You have to do something damn it,” Natelmel chided himself again, then Nevtor swung a mighty blow, Natelmel barely catching it with his blade. Natelmel lost balance and slide back a few pace, then jumping back a few more to gain distance.

“You are weak, terrified of the Gawei, your existence is an insult to the Ran-nu. When I’ve killed you; I will bury your body, deep and unmarked. Your name, your father’s name, will be forgotten,” Natelmel declared to his opponent.

Nevtor erupted, “AAAAAAAAAARGGH,” he threw his javelin with all his might, Natelmel, nearly skewered, barely managed to jump free. Nevtor then rampaged, charging Natelmel.

“Hummpfh,” Natelmel grunted and jumped back, hurling his javelin.

“Aaah!!” Nevtor loosed, Natelmel’s spear found a home and embedded itself in the gut of his opponent. The behemoth stumbled for a few steps, then he slid and fell to his knees.

“Uugh, damn you.”

Nevtor began to rise, but it was too late, Natelmel had circled around behind him, and put his blade to Nevtor’s throat.

“I’m sorry, but know your death will see us home,” he whispered, as the blade glode across Nevtor’s neck with ease. Ruby droplets rained from the wound, then a ruby fountain spouted forth.

“Bury him deep and unmarked,” Natelmel bid the two guards. With little hesitation, they grabbed up the heavy corpse of Nevtor and made for the edge of the camp, calling for some of the others to aid.

“That was something to see,” One of Natelmel’s men said, as he dismounted.

Natelmel turned to see Odain.

“Ah, it’s a shame he could not see reason, I’m sad to say, and made it necessary.”

Natelmel thought for a moment about what had happened and what was needed now, then said to Odain, “I need you to return to our campsite and gather the families and return here.”

The days waned and grew cold before Odain returned, an uneasiness settled in the air over the new camp. But Natelmel felt sure in his position, he took the Chief’s tent as his own and returned the women Nevtor had claimed to their families.

“The first step is taken, still it wasn’t without death and blood,” Natelmel thought over his plans and what else he needed to do.

“Dada,” A two year little boy called out, causing Natelmel to snap to reality. Behind the child a young woman pressed back the tent flaps, her coal eyes shining in the flickering torchlight. Her black hair flowing down her back and curling up just above her hips. While her belly was heavy with a child.

“‘Mun,” Natelmel exclaimed, bending down to scoop up his son. The child’s coal-filled eyes shining and his black hair bouncing softly with the shift in position.

“Dada,” the child called out again, it brought a smile to his father’s face.

“You left in such a hurry, my shepherd,” The woman, Natelmel’s loving wife, stated, “You didn’t even say you were going.”

“Jethaa, my beauty, I know and am sorry for that. I have so much I must do,” Natelmel explained, “But you are here now. Let us make use of the time.”

The two spent the rest of the night talking and playing games of hide and seek with the young child.

The unease in the village didn’t last long as Natelmel showed himself among the people, joining hunts and seeing to the doharn alongside the people. His young son, Natelmun, too, became beloved by his new people. Who called him Yamewag, Ran-nu for young herder, because of his habit to run around the pastures, chasing the baby doharn.

Natelmel finally called his people together, more than a few week after he became leader.

“Everyone,” he proclaimed, “I apologize for disrupting your lives here, but I have little choice. The Gawei pushed us from our homes once and now I need your help to take those homes back.”

He continued, “So stay with me through this and I swear, on my life, to do just that.”

Most of the Ran-nu of the Evot were old enough to remember well what it was like when the Gawei started their conquests. They survived the raids, where their villages were burned to the ground. They saw how those who wouldn’t or couldn’t flee the attacks were cut down. They heard the screams of the Doharn that filtered through the air as the beasts were burned in the fires and slaughtered by the foreigners that razed the grounds that were once their homes.

They remembered and their hopes of home, their anger at the Gawei, outpaced their fears and doubts. So, hesitantly, they assented, “We swear to follow you, Our Chief, wherever you may lead, so long as it brings us home.”

Natelmel’s heart swelled and his eyes glistened from the support, he called out, “Thank you.”

“I know I can actually accomplish this, and return my people home,” he thought to himself as he returned to his tent.

“My sweet,” he called out, and his wife approached.

“Hello, my shepherd.”

“I fear I must leave you once again,” he explained.

“I know, I heard you announce your plans to the Evot,” Jethaa responded, “don’t worry about us. I’ll watch the children and look after our camps here. You go bring us home.”

“I’m not leaving until tomorrow,” He said, leaning in and kissing her neck.

“Let’s make use of the time we have.”

Jethaa smiled, took his head in her hands, and kissed him, as he slid his hand up her thigh.

“Dada,” Young Natelmun cried out. As the child woke from his slumber, Natelmel and Jethaa chuckled quietly amongst themselves. Natelmel turned to his son, took him up from his bed, and cradled the boy in his arms.

The following day he and nearly two hundred men, his new Evot, saddled up and rode out from the camp. As they made their way along the mountain paths, Natelmel called forth Odain.

“How are you feeling, my friend?” Natelmel asked, “Do you think you could take some of the men and travel to all the neighboring encampments south of here over the next few months and spread the word of our mission?”

Odain responded, “If that is your wish, my Chief, I will see it done.”

Natelmel commanded a number of the riders to separate and approach the two, “You are all to follow Odain and obey his orders as if they were mine.”

“As you command, my Chief.”

Odain and the group of warriors then disappeared south along the paths. Over the next several months, Natelmel’s force made visits to many of the smaller Northern Ran-nu camps. Where he spoke with their elders, winning many of them over to his side. With each one, his influence grew along with his force and sources of supplies swelled as each of the numerous Ruts were absorbed from these chiefdoms. With the increase of men and families, the clan’s skills grew and their granary filled. Then at one of the last villages, he came across a group of the Ran-nu that were making use of a weapon that was strange to Natelmel’s sight.

“What’s that weapon you have?” he asked of the man carrying it. The weapon was recurved wyrmwood with taut cord, connecting the top and bottom.

“This? It’s a bow and arrow,” The Ran-nu hunter answered presenting each piece to display his meaning. He, then, nocked an arrow, slowly drew the cord, before he finally loosed it into a distant target.

“Ah, may I see it?” Natelmel asked, the hunter was hesitant but shortly handed it over. Natelmel then pulled back on the taut cord, mimicking the hunter’s previous motion.

“Very interesting, thank you,” he said, returning the bow to the man, then making his way to the chief’s tent. He was escorted inside and came face to face with an older Ran-nu man, the chief’s once black hair was now white and his eyes dull but still hinting a wisdom born of his years.

“It is good to meet you, Elder Wone,” Natelmel began, he explained his purpose in travelling to the village, the old man nodding and commenting as he did, finally Natelmel asked, “Will you and your people follow me?”

The old man sat back and thought for sometime, then announced, “I’m thirsty.”

Natelmel presented his own waterskin for him to drink. After the old man drank of the skin and returned it to Natelmel, he said, “I think you can do it. there’s something in your eyes, so I will declare for you. But it’s up to them if they want to follow.”

“Thank you Elder!” Natelmel shouted, then went on talking with the Elder for much of the waning light and on until the morning.

The following day, they greeted Wone’s clan, with Wone proclaiming, “Natelmel is a noble man, a pure man with a singular hope. To return the Ran-nu to their homes. I believe in his intentions and I believe he is a man capable of succeeding in that hope. So I have chosen to swear an oath to follow him in his endeavor.”

Wone’s people sat quiet, then one of the Hunters shouted, “I swear.”

Then another, and several more, until finally, the whole of the camp had sworn. Before long their camp was dismantled and his new followers returned to their new village.

The returning warriors sighed with relief at their long sought-after homecoming, visibly exhausted from their protracted trek. But their joy over their arrival at Natelmel’s camp was diminished. They were not met with the happy tidings and populated camp they expected. Instead, before the party, were the battered and diminished force Natelmel had sent with Odain, they too were recently returned to camp.

“He’s been captured, Chief,” one of the riders declared, “We had moved south to talk with more camps. But when we got to them, they were empty, the people and tents gone.Then we eventually came across another party of Ran-nu riders.”

“Without warning the group attacked us, killing several of our number and wounding others. We were clearly in trouble so Odain ordered our retreat,” he continued, “Only for himself to be captured while we fled. I’m so sorry, Chief.”

Tears fell from the rider’s eyes.

“I shouldn’t have left him.”

Odain 1

“Hey, hey!” a warrior shouted and yanked on the binding cord, “We’re moving on, so get off your ass.”

Odain opened his eyes to darkness. The sun’s light, if there was any to be seen, was blocked by the overgrown canopy of the mountain forest. A pain radiated from the back of his head and his stomach churned from hunger.

“How long has it been?” he asked himself.

“I said get up,” the warrior stated, the campfire glowed in his coal-colored eyes as the warrior stared at his charge. He yanked on the cord again as Odain rose to his feet, the pull was hard enough that the rope cut into Odain’s skin.

“Where are we going?”Odain said to his guard, a hint of anger weighted his voice.

The warrior ignored his question and tied the rope to the harness on his doharn before he hopped into the saddle. As the party travelled the path, the warrior would shout “Move it” and tug on the rope to spur Odain onward.

After several hours, one of the members of the group called out, “Alright, stop.”

He then pointed to one of the others and said, “Get some food going.”

“You, sit,” the guard barked at Odain, pointing to a thick off-white tree, it’s top stretched high into the canopy. A milky sap oozed from its bark ending in various pools around the base of the tree, “Under the Matus.”

“Thank the Herder,” Odain said quietly to himself, with a dry tongue through chapped lips. He began to rub his legs, burning from the forced march behind the mounted team.

“We’ve been traveling South,” he told himself and looked around the trodden clearing, trying to figure out where he was. But there was no landmark to find.

The guard came close and said, “Hold still,” before he took hold of the rope, wrapped it around the Matus tree, and tied it off, pulling a few times to check its hold.

“That should hold you,” the guard stated, matter of factly, before he returned to his partners and helped prepare the fire.

“Lux is a bit past tilt,” Odain again spoke to himself as he continued to gather the little intel he could.

“Near a night and half a day then,” He thought before he noticed his guard had walked over to him.

“I said ‘Are you thirsty?’” he asked again, shaking a water skin as he reached Odain.

Odain nodded his head and the guard said, “Alright, open up,” then put the mouth of the skin to Odain’s lips, who gulped down several quenching mouthfuls of water.

“Alright, that’s enough for now,” the guard stated, as Odain wet his parched lips with his newly dampened tongue. The fragrance of the hearty stew drifted on the air and filled Odain’s nose. As he breathed it in, his stomach began to lurch and gurgle, reminding him it had been a long time since he last ate. The Guard looked back to the others then returned his focus to Odain and said, “Food should be ready soon,” before he returned to his party.

With the attention of the four riders on each other and the food stewing away over a small cooking fire, Odain leaned and twisted, in what little give the rope had, and tried to test for a weak spot without drawing the attention of his captors.

“Damn, too tight,” he thought to himself after several stealthy trials of the knotted rope. Resigned, Odan closed his eyes and allowed himself to rest.

He was woken by a kick to his outstretched legs, “Veeg says I have to make sure you eat, can’t have you falling over before we get back to camp.”

His groggy eyes adjusted to a new face, one of the other riders, a young woman with a slim build, and a plump round face, had taken over for his original guard.

“How long was I asleep?” Odain thought to himself before he noticed the new guard carried some stew, steam still wafted from the bowl.

“Veeg?” Odain voiced.

“The hairy one who’s been watching you up to now,” the new one said, pointing to Veeg, when Odain finally took notice that Veeg wore his hair long and a full beard, unlike most Ran-nu. Odain also noted that he wore a patchwork coat over his doharn leathers, distinguishing him further from his companions.

One of the other two riders chuckled as the last slept, then Veeg spoke out.

“Very funny, Vroul, now feed him,” Veeg barked, then added, “And find out his name while you are at it.”

“Yes Sir!” Vroul said, a hint of mockery in her voice, “You heard him.”

“Odain, son of Odagin, who died at the river, defending all of the Ran-nu people.”

Veeg hesitated, then stepped forward with his food.

”Could I go piss first?” Odain asked and Vroul looked back over her shoulder.

“Mm.” Veeg grunted as he nodded.

“Okay,” Vroul paused, “But look, if you try and run, we’ll ride you down. If you attack us or try anything stupid...”

“Well, just don’t do it.”

Odain nodded and Vroul put the stew between Odain’s legs then untied the knot.

“There, and don’t leave my sight,” she said, the whimsy gone from her tone. Odain relieved himself and returned to his food.

“I’m assuming you can feed yourself, right?” Vroul asked in rhetorical mockery, “I’ll leave you untied so you can eat.”

“Just remember the rules.”

“It was very good,” Odain complimented as he spooned the last bit of stew from his bowl.

Vroul responded, “Thank you, it’s better than my usual sludge, I admit.”

“Now, are you ready, we have quite a ways to cover before camp again, and we won’t be stopping.”

Odain nodded, the party cleared the camp and Odain’s binding was again tied to Veeg’s harness. They travelled the mountain paths until hours after darkness took over the sky and Eker and Polar’s light filled the land. Veeg finally called for camp in a slender passage flanked by sheer rock face.

Odain walked to the nearby tree as directed and slumped against it. After a last stretch, Veeg tied him tightly to the light brown trunk.

“Get some sleep,” Veeg stated after he checked the binding, then turned to his focus to the other riders.

“You’re on first watch,” he said, pointing to the rider that slept during the dinner. Odain tried the ropes again, to no avail. He was too tired from the journey to continue and simply fell asleep.

He woke to the packed up camp and Veeg untying him. The rest of the day carried on much the same, they stopped after noon for a meal and again made camp a few hours after dark settled in. This carried on for three more days until finally Veeg announced, “We’re home.”

“About… Time...” Odain huffed out, in between attempts to catch his breath.

“Heh,” Vroul snorted, while the other two riders joined with a chuckle.

Veeg spoke, “Come on, Junco will want to see him.”

With that, he tapped his mount, pulling the tether, and the five rode into the camp.

As they marched through the campgrounds, Odain surveyed the area. The air of the gorge was choked with the smoke from cooking fires, numbering beyond immediate measure. Likewise, the area was filled with numerous linen and leather patchworked tents. While the place echoed with the soft bugles of the countless Doharn in the nearby pasture and chatter of the great multitude of warriors, who busied themselves by attending to the endless menial tasks of life. Near the center of the camp, there was a shallow pit with seating around its edge.

“Get!” his accompaniment shouted to their doharn after they had removed the saddlebags and harnesses, sending the animals to the pastures.

“That’s far enough for you lot,” One man from a group of warriors bellowed as the party approached the large tent.

“The Chief’s hut,” Odain thought as he noted the leatherwork of this group of warriors was expertly crafted and ornamented.

“We’ve got one for the Chief. He stayed behind so others could escape,” Veeg stated and tried to sidestep the guard.

“Good to know,” the guard said and blocked Veeg as he looked over to Odain, “But Junco doesn’t need to see you. We’ll take him and you can go join the rest of the flock until we give you new orders.”

Odain caught a flash of prideful fury in his captor’s eyes at the arrogant derision.

“You have a problem?” the guard said as he tensed his biceps.

“Let’s go,” Veeg said before he handed the binding to the guard and turned to leave.

“Great Chief, we have a captive, taken by Veeg’s squad while out on patrol,” the guard said as he yanked Odain’s binding and caused it to dig further into his flesh, pulling him into the tent.

“Sheer him good, Herder,” Odain cursed under his breath, then looked around the room. Along the left and right walls were racks lined with a myriad of blades and spears. The rest of the tent was sparsely decorated, save for 2 large amber hides, one adorned the floor and the other dressed the bed. Atop the bed was a large partisan spear.

“The Luan,” Junco said suddenly, to Odain’s surprise, “I killed them myself on a hunt, that one,” he said and pointed to the skin on the floor, “I took down with a spear thrust. The one on the bed, I strangled when it jumped on me.” He continued with a self-satisfied smile on his face. His dark hair was long, cut just below the shoulders and knotted into a single tail. Junco stood half a head over himself and while his dark fleshed rippled on his thick, muscular frame.

“Now, where are you from?” he asked of Odain.

“North,” Odain barked. The guard smashed a spear shaft into his back and said, “Don’t be smart.”

“North where?” Junco questioned.

Odain stood unresponsive, Junco nodded. The guard whacked him again and he fell to one knee but still said nothing.

“Lock him up and send out another patrol, find out where he’s from.”

“Move it,” the guard commanded as he pushed Odain towards the pit area and cages on the other side.

“Get in,” the guard said as he shoved Odain into one of the empty cages, tied the binding to the cage, bound the door, and returned to Junco’s tent. Soon darkness blanketed the gorge and Odain drifted to sleep.

“Uugh,” he said as the bright light of Lux poured into his unready eyes, sending a burning shock through him. Cheers and shouts from the pit had awakened him, so he dragged himself from the cage floor to see the commotion.

“Yeah, hit him!” someone shouted. Down in the pit, two men, dressed only in their breeches, were in combat. Around the lip of the pit much of the crowd sat, cheering and chiding when either of the two men gained an advantage over the other.

As Odain watched, one of the combatants caught the other in the nose. The struck man collapsed to the ground and grabbed his face, his hands quickly coloring red. As his attacker closed, he shook him off and acknowledged his loss.

“Well done!” many of the crowd voiced while others booed and hissed.

The man with the broken nose was dragged from the pit and, with great scorn, rejoined the ranks. While the crowd flooded away from the pit, the victor was escorted, under guard, back to the cages where his hands were rebound, then the guards left. One of the guards returned with a bucket of gruel, scooping some into a bowl in each of the filled cages. When he reached the cage of the winner, he threw a hunk of cooked meat into the man’s cage.

“Here, you earned it,” the guard said and the man quickly tore a chunk of the flesh and sopped up some of the watery meal. Odain watched on for a few moments then turned his attention to his own meal. Once he finished, he sat quietly and listened to the bustle of camp life about him. He thought about his wife, then dwelled on memories of his sons playing in the doharn pastures.

“Odame, Odaaj, and Odaane, my Little ‘Ane. My sons, I wish all three of you happy lives,” and before he knew it, it was dark and he slept once again. The next few days carried on in much the same way, a fight between a captive and one of the warriors under Junco, followed by a lukewarm bowl of food. Then sitting quietly and thinking; thinking about his family, of cold nights made warm in bed with his wife, remembering the pride when each of his sons first rose into the saddle. He stuck on his youngest son’s first ride.

He closed his eyes and drifted back to that memory.

“Dada,” his youngest called as Odain and Odame, his eldest whose round ebony face was marked with several pimples and a few hairs, trotted their doharn around the pasture.

“I want to ride too,” the child whined, his eldest spoke up, “You’re too small, go back to mother.”

Odain looked to his two sons, then hopped out of the saddle. “Alright, Odaane, if you can get into the saddle, you can ride with your brother in the pasture.”

Odain watched as ‘Ane grabbed the animal’s fur and pulled, the beast bucked a little but Odain calmed it and took hold of its horn. Odaane let go and his face scrunched up for a moment, then he grabbed the harness and dangled, kicking his feet. When he hit the stirrup, he stuck his foot in it and pushed off while pulling on the harness. He made it into the saddle, a smile on his face, beaming.

Odain chuckled and handed the reins to Odame, “Lead your little brother’s mount around the pasture.”

Odame took the reins and tapped the stirrups into his doharn’s hind, urging the two animals on. Odain faded into sleep with the image of his oldest and youngest trotting side by side through the lush grass.

Lux rose and cast its light on the morning of the following day. He stirred from his rest as he woke to the sound of a guard’s kick against his cell.

“Get up,” the guard barked, “It’s your turn to fight. Let’s go.”

The guard opened the cage, entered, and began to undo the binding on his hands. As he did, Odain swept the guards legs then kicked him in the face.

“I have no interest in fighting for you, whelp,” Odain said as he pushed the guard outside and closed the cage. It wasn’t long before backup arrived for the guard. They helped the guard to his feet, who spat up some teeth as rage filled him and began to burn on his face.

“You’re going to fight,” the injured guard said as he spit out blood, “Get him to the pit.”

The reinforcements tore open the gate and piled on Odain, punching and kneeing him, then took him to the pit grounds and threw him to the ground. He rose to his feet, wiped the blood from his lip, and looked to his opponent, who began to close on him.

“Wait!” Odain heard someone from the crowd shout, he looked and it was Junco.

“My blood’s cooled since I last fought, I want to be the first to fight the newcomer.”

The crowd cheered as Junco removed his wrap and entered the pit, taking the place of the first warrior.

“Oh, ah,” Junco said as he stretched his arms and legs, the massive muscles of his large frame rippled and danced as he flexed.

“Seems you’re injured,” Junco said, “I hope you can still entertain me.”

“Just get on with it,” Odain returned.

“Hah!” Junco shouted as he charged across the pit, slamming into Odain, sending the two crashing to the ground. Odain rained elbows on Junco’s back and neck as Junco smashed his fist into Odain’s ribs.

“Ahhh!! Yeah, get him Junco!” the crowd cheered and shouted at the spectacle. Despite the forceful elbows, Junco managed, almost effortlessly, to maneuver to dominance. Sitting on Odain’s stomach, he began to pound on Odain, who did his best to cover his head from the ferocious attack. But as the beating continued, Odain’s defense fell apart and Junco’s landed several blows to his head.

“Ahh, ugh!” Odain gurgled as Junco wrapped his giant hands around his throat and began to squeeze.

“Can’t breath,” Odain thought to himself, his eyes bulging as Junco squeezed the life out of him. The world blurred and he began to feel like he was floating. He realized Junco had lifted him from the ground, holding him half his height off the ground. He kicked his legs and clawed at the hands crushing his neck, but nothing helped. The grip held firm.

“He’s going to kill me. My wife… My sons,” he thought as a white light flashed before his eyes and everything faded to black nothingness.

Natelmel 2

The warriors stood, silent and unmoving, for several moments as the riders words took them by surprise, “In the name of the Herder,” one of his men exclaimed.

“We have to do something!” Another called out.

“It’s too late in the day to do anything now, go spend the time with your family, friends, and loved ones,” Natelmel declared, while he motioned to several of his riders, “I know we have been away for such a long time. But I need you to find out about this other faction and their leader, anything and everything you can.”

The group sighed loudly, but they nodded and rode out from the camp, while rest of the tired men and women made their way into the campgrounds. While the newest families find place to establish themselves in the Ran-nu crowded alcove. After seeing to his duties in the camp, Natelmel hastily made his way to his tent.

“Mmmm,” He hummed, the smell of roasted kak and fresh bread emanated from the tent. As he pushed away the tent flaps, his young son sat quietly playing.

“Great Herder, He’s huge!” Natelmel exclaimed. As the child heard his father, little ‘Mun ran to him and stretched out his arms. Natelmel grabbed up his son, then pulled the child tight into his chest, since he had not seen ‘Mun in so long.

“Hehehe DaDa. Stop it, you’re squishing me.” little ‘Mun cried out.

“He’s not the only one who’s grown, my shepherd,” Jethaa stated as she held up two little babes, gently cooing as they slept in her arms, “Come say hello to your new son and daughter.”

“Ohh, come on Mun, let’s say hello to the nurslings,” he said lifting ‘Mun into the air and bringing him down in front of Jethaa. He then gently picked up the babes and cradled them to his chest. The two children cried out for a few moments then calmed, as Natelmel tenderly rocked them up and down.

“Dada loves you,” he whispered, then mouthed to Jethaa, ”What are their names.”

“Her name is Natelstel and his is Natelmaa,” she whispered backed, meanwhile ‘Mun grabbed at his leg, “Come on dada, play with me!”

“Ah my children, I love you so much,” he said, squeezing the babes one last time before returning them to Jethaa’s arms.

“ALRIGHT! Dada’s gonna get you!” Natelmel taunted and started to chase his son.

“AAHH!!” little ‘Mun screamed and ran away.

“Hehe,” Jethaa laughed at the sight as she gently rocked the two nurslings. As the night passed, little ‘Mun slowly grew tired and eventually fell into his bed.

“Now do you have time to play with me, my shepherd?” Jethaa asked with a coy smile as she slid her hand into Natelmel’s lap.

Days passed into weeks as the Ran-nu settled into camp and Natelmel enjoyed his family life, then one night his scouts returned to the camp with news.

“My Chief, we’ve travelled all across the mountains to find information, as you commanded,” one of the scouts reported, his face marred by a fresh scar across his right cheek and eyebrow.

“We found mostly empty camps, several among them were burned out and left with the traces of the dead.”

“I see...” he swallowed his shock at the news then quickly recovered and continued, “and what of Odain or this other faction of Ran-nu. Did you find anything of them, Nunken?”

“Yes sir, we didn’t have much to go on but we found several of their forces and followed them to a camp,” the scout responded, “It’s a little more than a week south of here in another alcove, the mountain barrier surrounding their camp is high and steep.”

“Very well, thank you. You’re dismissed so go spend the rest of the night with your familes,” Natelmel dismissed the scouts and turned to his wife, “I...”

“Shhh,” Jethaa cut him off by lovingly placing her finger to his lips, “I understand, my shepherd, you must do what you must. Just promise you’ll return to us.”

“I will, my love,” Natelmel promised, then kissed his wife, the foreheads of his two sons and his daughter as if it was to be their last time together. He then tore himself from his family, suffering the worst wound he had ever experienced in life.

“Have the men ready, we must leave at dawn,” Natelmel ordered the guards as he exited the tent and headed to Wone’s hut.

“Elder Wone,” he called out, “May I enter?”

“Yes, Child. What is it?“ the old man said as he lifted back the flap and motioned for Natelmel to enter.

“The Evotta will ride out soon and I need someone to watch after our homes while we are away,” Natelmel answered.

“Ah, give me a moment and I will think of someone,” Wone then turned over the thought in his head.

Natelmel interjected, “I have someone in mind, my wife, she is strong and intelligent, and if you were to stand at her side, I know the people will be safe.”

“Haha,” Wone burst out, “Hmm, I like it. Very well, Child, I will advise your wife and keep after our people. You go worry about bringing them home.”

“Thank you, Elder. This eases my mind. So long,” Natelmel bowed then left the tent. As he exited, he released a sigh, then turned his attentions to readying his men.

The rest of the night passed in hurried excitement. By dawn, more than five hundred warriors sat in the saddles of their doharn mounts and anxiously waited for his command to move out. Natelmel sat aback his pure white mount and steeled himself for what was to come.

“Alright, my Evotta, let’s move out,” He commanded, the force flowed out into and through the mountain path like a raging river topped with snow.

Natelmel and the Evotta traveled for days through the passes, on occasion they were held up by the overgrown plantlife and too narrow paths, but Nunken directed them onwards.

“Hold!” Natelmel called out as Nunken rode far in front of the procession to the crossroads. The surroundings were dark, the overgrowth dispersing the late day sun’s light. He raised his arm and motioned for Natelmel to approach as he had so often done.

“Chief,” Nunken whispered as Natelmel came near, “We are being shadowed, at least three strong and keeping their distance.”

Plans formed in Natelmel’s mind and he called up a dozen of his warriors with the swiftest mounts, “I need you to split off from our main force and reconnoiter the path,” he said to Nunken then turned and addressed the squad, “It seems our guide is confused so, you are to follow Nunken down that path, while the rest of the Evotta traverse the main path. If you find anything, send a messenger immediately.”

“You know what to do Nunken,” Natelmel said as he dismissed the group. Once they had disappeared from sight, he called for the Evotta to continue on. The cavalcade made its way through the gray cliff-bordered path until Lux’s light disappeared completely. Finally at a stretch of widen trail, Natelmel ordered the Evotta to make camp. In a short stretch, the warriors had done so, their small portion of the black veiled mountain pass was litten by the numerous cooking fires of the force.

The dark night air was filled with the bugles of the weary doharn mixed with the shouts and songs of their riders. Natelmel sat in his hastily made-up tent, mulling over his plans for the approaching days.

“God, what am I going to do,” he worried, “Attacking this force will mean the death of so many of my people, and the deaths will bring division between the Ran-nu.”

A ruckus on the outskirts of the campgrounds broke the frivolity of the men, one of his warriors lifted the flap of his tent.

“Chief,” the warrior stated, “Nunken has returned sir, as have the men who went with him. They seem to have three prisoners with them.”

Natelmel hurried out of his tent and met with the returning party.

“Hail, Chief,” Nunken greeted him, “It was a good plan. After we surprised these three, they ran. It took some chasing but we managed to catch them.”

Natelmel nodded at the compliment then turned to the prisoners, the trio showed ragged signs of prolonged maltreatment. Their dark hair was amess, their eyes filled with fear, and their their bodies, bare, had distant and recent scars from regular whippings and beatings.

“See them to a meal then put them under guard,” he commanded his men. Natelmel then called Nunken to walk with him as they shared a private discussion.

“You did well with the task I placed on you, more so with capturing them rather than taking their lives,” Natelmel congratulated his follower, “I’m glad to know I have someone such as you on my side.”

“You honor me, my Chief, thank you,” Nunken said, as he bowed, “I should see to the meals for the prisoners and to their guards.”

Natelmel dismissed him and returned to his command tent to get some rest. He woke early the following morning and made his way outside. The camp torches barely impacted the darkness and Lux had not even broken the horizon, let alone lightened the mountain pass. He made his way to the prisoners and spoke with the guards.

“I wish to see the guests,” he said.

“Yes, of course my Chief, they are right inside,” the guard responded, pulling back the flap and escorted the Chief in. Inside the tent, the three men slept quietly, two more guards stood watch from the entrance. When the guards saw Natelmel, one of them moved and woke up the prisoners.

“Get up you little shits, the Chief’s here to see you,” the guard said, kicking the feet of the men.

“Enough! That’s no way to treat guests,” Natelmel barked and motioned for the guard to loosen their bindings.

“I’m sorry for my men, they are a bit on edge. So please forgive them.”

The three prisoners sat silent, wary, then one spoke, “What are you going to do with us?”

Natelmel smiled, “Just ask you some questions.”

“Are you hungry?” he asked then motioned to his men to fetch some food, one left and returned with some stew and bread. The prisoners dined quickly, and as they finished Natelmel asked, “Now, please tell me about your chief.”

The prisoner who spoke up before began to speak, “Junco? He’s a beast; he tortures us for some sick enjoyment, beats us for imagined slights, and slaughters anyone who objects or if ...”

“Then why do you still follow him?” Natelmel questioned.

“We don’t have any choice!” one of the other prisoners shouted.

“He’s the strongest man I’ve ever seen, and if we leave…” he hesitated, “Our families, he has them. If we just leave he’ll kill them, or worse.”

The remaining prisoner spoke up, “We have to get back, if we don’t. Please let us go. Please!”

A rush of emotion washed over Natelmel, “Very well. Release them.”

After a short time the prisoners were guided out of the camp. As they disappeared, Nunken appeared and approached Natelmel.

“You sure this is a good idea?” He asked his Chief.

“It’s all I have planned. You have any ideas?” Natelmel returned.

Nunken shrugged his shoulders, so Natelmel ordered, “Well then, gather the Evotta, then take your men and bring me to this Junco.”

Natelmel pressed his party, patiently and proactively, as they proceeded through the passes, pathways, and precipices of the peaks, slowly trailing the path that Nunken and his men scouted before them. The Evotta moved onward each day and only set up camp when the light disappeared fully, barring their continued advance. ‘Til one snowy night, Nunken’s group returned to camp with news.

As Nunken entered the command tent, Natelmel approached and greeted him, “I pray to the Herder, my friend, have you found our enemy?”

“Hail, my Chief,” Nunken responded then turned to the issue at hand.

“Yes, it seems the men you released returned to the camp of Junco sometime last afternoon. Shortly after, more than five hundred warriors rode out, lead by a giant beast of a man. They rode hard and long, finally setting up camp just to the south of us, less than a half day’s march.”

“Good, that’s good,” Natelmel said, his mind racing with ideas. He, then, looked to Nunken and an expression overtook Natelmel’s face, a sort of bright-eyed grin. Natelmel opened his mouth to say, ”You are the only one who can do it.”

Nunken looked puzzled as Natelmel continued, “Tomorrow we are going to battle, I’ll do everything I can and buy time, but I need you and your men to slip into the enemy camp and find Odain. If he’s alive, do what you have to and bring him back to us. If not, then do what you are able to disrupt and dishearten the enemy, but do not put yourselves in danger. Any trouble and find somewhere to hunker down until it’s over.”

Nunken was taken aback and his jaw dropped, “You want me to… But I... You can’t be...” He paused for several seconds trying to think, then with a sigh, he said, “If that is your wish, my Chief, my men and I will see it accomplished. Speaking of my men, I better go and tell them the orders.”

“Tell the rest of our force to eat well and get some rest while you are on your way,” Natelmel said as Nunken left the tent. Natelmel’s thoughts raced with concerns and he fell into the hastily put together seat behind the small table. The table was covered, as usual, in the papers and maps he would pour over. After a time, his eyelids grew heavy and he slide into sleep.

He awoke early the following morning, his breath visible since the embers in the hearth and long burned out. As was habit in these mountains, the snow and frost covered surroundings were still dark though the sun had cracked the horizon in the east. Natelmel rose from the chair and stretched towards the roof of the tent, his back was stiff from the night he spent in the chair. He moved towards the flaps as he straightened his clothing.

Outside, he roused his young bugler and ordered, “have the men of the Evotta stirred from their slumber and to eat heartily of their breakfast rations.”

As the men ate, Natelmel spotted Nunken slipping out of the camp.

“I wish you luck,” Natelmel whispered as he prayed to the Herder for his plans to succeed. After the breakfast, the Evotta were ready and sat in their saddles.

“Fight well, my family, and live to see a new day,” Natelmel said, then ordered the force out of the camp where they rode for the fight with the enemy.

Natelmel’s Evotta wound the path and soon caught sight of the opposing warriors of Junco’s Evotta. They were in a large and flat valley, its snow-heavy fields glowing from the noonday sun’s light. As the two forces grew close, Natelmel saw, at the head of the lines opposite him, a gigantic man. His dark hair and beard grew wild and his eyes burned with a fierce fire. The gargantuan sat aback a rare and young doharn buck, its smoky white fur splashed with auburn, the doharn’s antler was snapped leaving a shadow of the design it once was.

“Battle formations!” Natelmel yelled and the Evotta moved around the field to their positions. Across from Natelmel’s forces, the opposition charged along the powdery valley floor towards Natelmel’s men.

As they met Natelmel’s lines, the Goliath bellowed, “You are a moron to face Junco, all who are so unwise will die.”

He then charged at Natelmel’s line, a dozen lesser giants flanked him. Natelmel’s front line loosed a volley of javelins then fell back. The assaulting dozen shook off the attack, then Junco followed it with a roar and kicked his mount into speed, entering the ranks of the fleeing line.

“Rar! you pissant, dickless, little bugs, DIE!” He raged. With a twirl and thrust of his partisan, he cut down one of the riders and beheaded the doharn of another of Natelmel’s men. Junco’s escort quickly joined the assailment where, in quick succession, each of them had cut down a man of his own.

“Send a volley!” Natelmel called out, his men kicked up and hurled their spears. Junco’s attack was blunted but he and his escort managed to mow down one more than a dozen and a half of Natelmel’s warriors before they fell back.

“God damn,” Natelmel exclaimed, “He’s monstrous.”

As soon as Junco had rejoined his troops, he whipped them into a charge for Natelmel’s men. Natelmel commanded his men into a tactical withdrawal and they fell back to the narrower pass on their side of the snow-caked valley. Once Natelmel secured the grounds, he called up his officers.

“You called for us, my Chief?” The four officers reported in.

“Good to see you, each of you are to command seventy five of the Evotta and take turns harassing Junco’s forces. The remaining two hundred will stay behind and hold the pass. Do what you can to prevent deaths but do not let them withdraw,” Natelmel ordered, “Dismissed.”

The battle devolved into minor skirmishes as Natelmel’s officers rotated their attacks. Before long it was too dark to see and the harassment waned. Natelmel summoned up his officers again.

“Thank you, no doubt you have saved this battl,e” Natelmel congratulated the commanders, “Now, I have an important mission for you all.”

“We ride for you, My Chief,” the officers answered.

Natelmel continued, “When Polar and Eker reach their zenith, combine your forces and assault the enemy encampment. Do not endanger yourselves nor your men, but you must get their attention. Understood?”

“Whatever you command, my Chief,” the officers bowed and left. Soon Polar and Eker were in position and the three hundred men and their officers rode out of the pass. They charged forward and engaged the enemy camp.

“Enemy Assault!” Junco’s escort cried out. Junco appeared from his tent and peered around, he then barked, “It’s just the barking cunts trying to stave off their deaths. Move the men to the front and run them off.”

He, then, reentered the tent.

Natelmel had with him a half-dozen warriors, each carrying a short sword at their waist and a dagger in their hands. As all Ran-nu daggers, they were crafted entirely from doharn antler. The warriors stalked Junco through the campgrounds and reached his tent where they overheard the order. Natelmel motioned towards the reporting guards. Two of his followers approached the guards silently and slide their hands across their mouths. At the same time, they drove their doharn blades into the guards’ throats and dragged the thrashing bodies out of the walkways, blood spurted sporadically as they moved.

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