The High Chief’s Castle, Central City, Sovereign Tribal Lands
U’mtek, White Moon 3303 – September
Bakkad Castle was built by the stone masons of Pisa and had been completely constructed of white and graystone marble over three thousand years ago and although the castle had been a haven of safety for Amir all these years, he no longer found comfort within the tall, thick walls. Amir stood upon the parapet of Kiril Tower, immune to the cold and thinking of his sister Safiya. The castle towers shone brightly against the blue-black night sky and large, wet snowflakes blanketed the tall wintergreen trees and sloping valley surrounding it as he gazed across the snow-covered landscape at the surrounding villages and the glittering lights of Penza City in the distance. He wondered what life had been like for her in their homeland of Nasai and although he sensed that she was safe, he got the feeling that she may not be for long; there was a danger in the air these days that even he could not deny.
Amir heard footfalls trudging up the tower steps behind him and knew that it was his foster brother before Manu walked through the heavy iron door. The hinges creaked loudly in the cold and a rush of warm air created a cloud of thin mist when the door opened.
“Why so grim?” Manu asked as the door fell closed behind him and he came to stand beside Amir by the buffers.
Manu Bakkad, the only son of Umanja Bakkad, the High Chief of U’mtek, was never one to brood and although he was only three years older than Amir he had made it his mission to make sure that Amir did so only as needed. His lavender eyes twinkled playfully and his straight, silver hair hung over the light grey cloak that he wore. Beneath the cloak he wore a light blue tunic suit in the silver and blue colors of his clan while Amir wore an identical suit and cloak but in his own clan colors. Amir’s cloak was dark orange and his doe-skin suit dark yellow.
“You should be downstairs celebrating and dancing with an eager first daughter, not sulking in the cold,” Manu joked with good humor and lifted his hood over his head.
Amir shrugged non-committedly. High Chief Umanja was holding a banquet in the Great Hall below to honor Amir’s having completed the U’mteki Martial Arts training and clan members and villagers had been invited from all over Penza to attend. Umanja Bakkad was of no blood relation to Amir, but he had treated him like a son since Amir and Nakar had arrived upon the shores of U’mtek but despite the Chief’s generosity and good intentions for holding the banquet Amir would rather be on a ship headed for Nasai than here celebrating when his sister could be in danger. The only reason he had worked so hard at mastering the combative arts was so that he would be equipped to help his people and to return to his sister; he did not feel like reveling when he knew that somewhere across the Jusha Ocean his sister was without him and his people were not free.
“I don’t want to dance with any first daughters and I don’t feel like celebrating,” Amir responded, his black eyebrows furrowed.
At nineteen moons, he was nearly as tall as Manu and still growing, but leaner and lankier than his older, well-muscled foster brother. Amir’s hazel eyes glistened with angst as he stared back at Manu who did not respond but instead pulled out his hand-carved pipe from his pocket and crumbled Chowan leaves into it silently; waiting.
“Sorry,” Amir finally said and turned away from his foster brother.
“I was thinking about my sister. I want to go to her. Now,” Amir griped.
Manu was sympathetic when he replied, “You know that you cannot, brother.”
Manu’s words only ignited Amir’s anger and he whirled on Manu.
“And why not?! I’ve finished the training – done all of the studying! All I have to do now is complete the Waliyun training and how can I possibly learn everything about being a Waliyun officer here in U’mtek?! I have to go!”
“Hey, you’re yelling at the wrong Bakkad, here. I’m on your side,” Manu responded, patiently taking a pull from his pipe.
Amir turned back towards the view of the village and looked out at the silently falling snow to calm his temper. Manu was right, as he often was; he’d been able to help Amir with sword training, with target practice and languages, with learning the customs and traditions of the U’mteki, but Manu could not grant Amir permission to travel to Nasai. Only his guardian, Nakar, or Chief Umanja could do that and Nakar had already said that it wasn’t safe and the Chief had agreed.
“Come,” Manu said quietly, placing his hand upon Amir’s shoulder. “You may be able to convince the old man to let you go if he’s in good spirits, and he is very proud of you tonight. If my father will grant you leave to travel then I’m certain that Nakar will not object. Come down to the festivities, smile, dance with a few girls, and wait for the Chief to become merry with drink: then ask him again. It might work.”
Manu’s grin was mischievous and Amir grinned back despite himself. Chief Umanja was fond of Simi fruit wine and Manu was likely right again.
“Fine,” Amir agreed. “But if it doesn’t work, I’m coming after you for making me dance.”
Manu chuckled. “Agreed.”
Manu held open the tower door and allowed Amir to enter first and they descended the winding staircase towards the gathering hall below where lively melodies from wind-flutes and long-horns could be heard. The robust aromas of spiced bread and roasted snow bull wafted up the steps towards them and Amir sensed the excitement and jubilance before they reached the entrance to the hall. They reached the arched doorway, framed by winter wreaths with silver and blue ribbons, and Manu grinned at him as the hall erupted with congratulations and applause when they entered. U’mteki clansmen and friends from the villages surged forward with congratulations and gifts, both in a show of respect for the Chief and as a display of affection for Amir.
Long wooden tables and benches had been set up in aisles across the hall for the guests and were covered with embroidered tablecloths in the blue and silver colors of U’mtek. There were multi-colored twinkling lights draped along the high ceiling and the village musicians played their flutes and horns before the great windows. Cooking pits filled with racks of roasted snow bull, white crows and spotted trout lined the far wall and filled the room with aromas that would certainly bring the wolves in later tonight. Feasting tables were laden with spiced bread, flat rolls, boiled rice and winter stews and the dessert table was covered with pink and yellow pastries, jelly filled cakes, nuts, pulu fruit and platters of honey bread.
It didn’t matter to the U’mteki that Amir’s was not of their tribe and the Bakkad clan had welcomed him and had treated him like one of their own so their congratulations were genuine; his achievement was seen as an achievement for the whole clan. Amir smiled at Chief Umanja when their eyes met from across the hall, truly grateful for all that he had done for him, and then looked towards his mentor, Nakar El Amra, who was seated beside the grinning Umanja at the Chief’s table. Although Nakar’s expression was solemn Amir sensed through his eseere that Nakar was also pleased. Nakar had been his closest confidant over the years and was the only one besides Manu who knew about Amir’s gifts.
“Congratulations, dear boy,” Aleksi Keetak, High Chief Umanja’s brother-in-law, exclaimed loudly over the din of the music and ongoing chatter as he cut off Amir and Manu’s advance towards the Chief’s table.
Baron Aleksi Keetak was the only brother of Umanja’s first wife, the Baroness Katiya, and although Aleksi had the reputation of being a gambler and a man of the darker, less honorable talents, he had been nothing but jovial and generous with Amir. Aleksi’s light blue eyes glittered cheerfully as he embraced Amir tightly, lifting him from the floor.
“A little something for you,” he grinned conspiratorially and slipped a thick wad of U’mteki bills into Amir’s tunic pocket when he put him down; he winked good-naturedly at Amir before disappearing into the crowd.
Manu had not missed Aleksi’s act of extravagance and whispered, “Don’t think I’ve forgotten that you owe me $300 roebles; I’ll be expecting a payback sometime before the night is done.”
Amir returned Manu’s grin as he was folded into another embrace by an obscure relative to the Chief whose name he could not remember and was passed from embrace to embrace as he tried to reach the feasting table. He was finally able to take his seat between Manu and Nakar to eat nearly twenty minutes later. Nakar was the first to stand and embrace him.
“Continued blessings and favor from the Creator be with you, ibn Amere,” Nakar stated and held Amir tightly for several moments before releasing him.
“Thank you, Uncle,” Amir replied against the lump that had formed in his throat.
Nakar had proven not only that Amir could trust him but that he truly cared for his well-being. Amir could not imagine that his own father would have raised him any differently than Nakar had. Nakar’s hair and beard was now completely grey, but he continued to train alongside Amir and to personally impart his knowledge of the combat arts to him. He resumed his seat and High Chief Umanja was next congratulating Amir by raising his glass of Simi wine and shouting across the hall for quiet.
“A toast to Amir ibn Amere Al Akhad, our young champion; our brother and son from across the ocean! We could not be more proud!” Umanja boomed in his deep, gravelly voice.
Hands lifted around the room with glasses full of wine or fruit juice as the hall toasted to Amir’s good fortune and although Amir smiled, he wished that his sister could have been there. Amir sat and ate following the toast but the hours passed slowly as he followed Manu’s advice. He smiled, drank, accepted gifts and even danced a few times with pretty, violet-eyed girls, but all he could think about was his sister. He waited for as long as he could, and once the Chief was merry and pink-cheeked with drink, just as Manu had predicted, Amir decided to take a chance. He needed to get to his sister, even if he had to use manipulation to do so.
The High Chief and Nakar had escaped to the windowed alcove at the quieter, front end of the hall to smoke from their pipes. The fragrant smoke swirled thickly about their heads when Amir approached them. They both looked up at him, Umanja smiling, and Nakar waved Amir forward towards one of the high backed armchairs beside him in front of the small fireplace.
“Our young champion,” Umanja declared as Amir sat. “You have made your father proud this day. I am as sure of it as I am sure of my own name. He could not have asked for a better son.”
Amir smiled crookedly, feeling guilty about what he was about to do.
“Thank you, Uncle. It has always been my hope to bring honor to my family,” Amir replied.
“And so you have,” Umanja praised. “And what takes you away from your celebration? Surely that pretty Dayshia is desiring another dance with you? It would be quite suitable for you to marry such a one.”
Amir grinned nervously and shot a side-ways glance at Nakar who sat silently in his chair, pulling from his pipe. He hoped that his mentor would not be able to read his intentions.
“I would like to request something of you, my Uncle, my Chief,” Amir stated, leaning forward.
“Anything,” Umanja agreed. “You need only ask it of me.”
It took a strong effort for Amir to keep himself from sighing with relief.
“I would like to ask for your permission, my Uncle, to complete my Waliyun training at Wi’shaw Temple in Am’maah,” Amir hurried to ask.
The Chief’s face immediately sobered and he glanced accusingly at Nakar whose dark green eyes sparkled with amusement as he exhaled from his pipe. Umanja turned back to Amir, his face stern and all traces of drink and cheer drained from his features, and Amir couldn’t hide the guilt he felt, but as repentant as he was, he did not look away or flinch from the Chief’s glare. They stared back at each other for several silent moments before the Chief grinned widely and let out a loud, boisterous laugh with a shake of his head. He looked over to Nakar, his eyes incredulous, while he laughed and Amir laughed uncertainly along with him. A rare smile spread across Nakar’s face and Amir was even more bewildered.
“I must say,” the Chief said, wiping tears of merriment from the corners of his eyes. “This is definitely a sign that you are your father’s son. Isn’t it so, Nakar? Cunning. Very Cunning.”
Amir grinned back with embarrassment.
“I will permit you this, and I will forgive you for your trickery. This time. But do not forget the gravity of what you ask. You must understand that we will need to take very drastic and extreme measures if we are to ensure your safety outside of these walls,” Umanja stated soberly by the time he had finished.
Amir nodded, eager to assent, and willing to do whatever necessary to see his sister again and as soon as possible.
“Yes, my Chief,” Amir responded.
Umanja nodded and then leaned back into his chair with another grin to pull from his pipe.
“Nakar will see to the arrangements,” the Chief said and exchanged another amused glance with Nakar.
Amir looked over at his mentor who smiled fondly at Amir and nodded.
“I will make contact with Wi’shaw tomorrow,” Nakar responded.
Read from the beginning online at Sahyun Chronicles . . .