DISCLAIMER: The name “Robert-Scott Hemhowzer” is a pseudonym I use for speculative fiction works
Feeling the tremoring chill of the winds, Ennor bundled himself with the lion-skin cloak he earned in Naluknipa that he always kept during the cold, Bulobiahu nights. Beyond the resting camp and the fire, he could see only purple-and-black with the glimmering lights effusing from the stars and the moon.
He drank sour camel’s milk from his olive green vessel blown from the Emalf sands and shells. While the camels that did the driving were male, the female ones provided milk. He also chewed on an orange from the chest of provisions.
His companions wore the same red, worm-silken tunic he did, which was deeper in color than the Lobia Desert before them. They also wore hoods and facial veils; light armors; wooden, single-handed shields; and leather baldrics wrapped over their shoulders bearing gladiuses, knives, and axes.
Ennor looked at the guards, donned with leather armor and helmets, who had wooden shields and kept their whips and blades ready on their waist. Their only means of bond with him were bundles of copper coins. If they were given bundles of bronze coins, then they would turn on him and steal his merchandise. Father Usumi taught him that coins only buy the services of a stone-building guild and a band of guards. He grasped the baldric, almost as though making sure that his weapons were not taken.
He took out his rectangular figurine of his god Konsegmog and watched the shiny etchings of a figure with a coin in one hand and a sword in the other reflect the bright swirliness of the flames. Ennor saw Sokoxo lifting his hands towards the fire. He asked quietly, “Would it be just as acceptable by Konsegmog for our guards to turn on us for plunder’s sake? Or even non-believing bandits?”
“Well, we are prepared in case such a thing happens,” Sokoxo answered.
Svasoriam grunted and chucked a stick from a lone tree nearby into the fire.
Continuing to grasp his golden figurine, Ennor stared at the caravans that contained the chests guarded by the servants who wore simple tunics and hoods and unadorned belts containing basic tools for animal-carving. His stomach churned at the possibility that an unsavory servant or sailor from that port town took some for himself. Last time he lost a piece of merchandise, he was thrashed; but he was no longer an apprentice of his father, rather he was fully responsible for his own loss.
Are we hypocrites? Ennor thought of the implications of a chief purchasing metals, most of which were armors, when he didn’t allow stealing it. He felt numb inside, thinking about what would happen if he really did pay dearly for acquiring metals that were plundered by Bhokoig when he raided Ioupa galleys that once enriched the Khusoei Empire.
Pakhankasp and his people carved a homeland in the Khusoei colony in Bulobiahu. They were recognized as an allied Kingdom by an Emperor in exchange for killing and chasing away any enemies of the Empire. What a tragic mistake.
Instead of asking Does the Chief know that these metals include stolen armor? Ennor said to Bosuah, “Is the Chief concerned about where these chests come from?”
Bosuah was the guide who navigated them to Chief Norliik. He wore the same customary attire which concealed his black, bushy beard, with the exception of leather armor and a belt slung around his waist containing a light sword. Bulobiahu warriors were known to retain lightness to what they wear and wield, in order to increase their equestrian speed, even on camels. “He’s desperate and needs the metal for armor. He has assured me that he is following his own tribe’s law by buying armor he himself has not stolen.”
“I also wonder.” Ennor changed the subject. “If we’re selling the metals to be forged for the warriors, only for them to die in the battlefield, then what’s the point in even selling them?”
Although he had experience in leading expeditions ever since he was seventeen, he was not monolithic. Not only did he want trust from his band, but also their convincing arguments.
“Well,” Sokoxo interjected, “We still get coins as payment.”
“Maybe we ought to take the armor from those poor, dead bastards and give them back to the Chief,” Svasoriam smirked.
“And have your hand removed as well?!” snapped Bosuah. “It is against the Chief’s law to steal armor, from the living or dead.”
Gutaso, one of the veteran companions, tugged at his grey beard. “I never bled for a man who forbade salvaging enemy armor.” Adopted from their Tispag forbearers, the Onkoglohm did the exact opposite of forbidding taking dead enemy armor and weapons. Every spoil was given Konsegmog-blessed value, whether it would be a helmet or an entire island.
Ennor remarked, “This goes back to the legend of Sonohs and Skiasig.” He only believed in legends when there were restrictions involved.
Bosuah recounted the story passed on in Chief Norliik’s tribe. “There were two Chiefs a long time ago. One led a desert-tribe; the other a mountain-tribe. One day, the desert Chief, Sonohs, sent a group of his personal warriors to sneak into the mountains and steal the armor of Skiasig. When they returned, Sonohs put the armor on and it immediately burned him into a charred corpse. What happened was Skiasig had a spell put on his armor in case anyone were to steal it.”
“Who would believe some superstitious armor?” Svasoriam said. “It’s not like their gods were ever there to begin with. Otherwise they wouldn’t be fighting.”
Had Svasoriam mentioned Konsegmog as one of those gods, Ennor would’ve ran his ax down his throat. Although he was engaging in business, it did not absolve him from war, especially miles away from Onkoglohm jurisdiction; and it was how the very Kingdom was founded.
Sokoxo asked Ennor, hoping to prevent a fight, “How do you know so much about the Bulobiahu?”
Ennor always known Sokoxo as being pure in his actions and words. He was the son of another retainer of Spoil-Sharer Bhokoig. One trading expedition, both of their fathers were brought to the same Naluknipa chief. While helping to secure a deal, they decided that Ennor and Sokoxo would make great sparring partners for their trainings.
“Well, I learned it from my father,” Ennor pointed at Bosuah. “And from Bosuah.”
Gutaso sneered, “Well, how does he even know how to get us to the Chief?”
“I have travelled through these sands since boyhood. My family has known this path for generations.”
Ennor interjected, “I can remember you told me that when my father introduced me to you.” It was only one time that Ennor ever got to be in Bulobiahu, which was at one of the port towns, never deep within the Lobia Desert, though he was made aware of the cold desert nights from the accounts of his father. He also told Ennor that he would accompany him on his desert expeditions when he was older, which never happened. He pulled back his hood and move his fingers through his rough hair as blood-red as his irises.
His own family name came from the cognomen of the son of one of the Spoil-Sharers who fought alongside Pakhankasp, who inherited rule over forums and villas taken from the Khusoei. This Spoil-Sharer’s name, Sansimo’im, came from the words of the newly molded Onkoglohm tongue meaning “blood-red,” in order to describe the colors of his eyes and hair. However, it would not describe the family’s reputation. Ennor’s family were more traders than warriors, only preparing as the latter when it was needed; like if they were plodding through the Lobia Desert accompanied by an inexperienced band.
Before he could finish his vessel, he dropped it when something dropped in the sand nearby and his vision became obscured by a sandstorm. He clung his hood and veil and blocked his entire face from the wind and the oncoming sand. Shouts from men and whinnies from barb horses were heard nearby. Ennor could see shadowy visages galloping through the sandstorm and pulled out his ax.
He blocked a downward attack from one of the bandits with his wooden shield, only scraping the metal boss in the center. They wore the egg-white hooded robes habitual to the Bulobiahu and Naluknipa desert-tribes. Ennor called upon his companions to attack, but the overwhelming blows of the bandit and the receding storm made it hard to even hear himself. The bandit swiped from his blade again, with Ennor preparing to block with a rapidly beating heart, with his feet edging to dodge the horse’s sprint, but the bandit was unmounted by Sokoxo and Gutaso.
The servants flew from their caravans and ran about, only for some of them to be cut down by the bandits. The guards slashed at them as they laid their hands on the metals. Ennor reached them and hoped to prevent their plunder. As he and Gutaso continued parrying the strikes from one of the horseback bandits, Bosuah echoed a Bulobiahu chant for the sandstorm die down. As it did, the remaining bandits got atop their horses with their bags of metals and fled.
Since he was experienced in fighting off bandits, his encounter didn’t shake him, rather it was the sight of the desolation around him. The servants, guards, bandits, and their horses alike lay dead; while the chests were burst open and spread indiscriminately; and some of the caravans contained the straining cries of the wounded, including Svasoriam cursing every god in the Onkoglohm and Ioupa faiths.
Ennor found a glass pot containing small bits of purple dust. He picked it up and, from the smell of it, concluded that it was a concoction of sand, shaman’s blood, and juice from the rarely grown, tangy onazhm.
“Sand magic,” snarled Ennor. “I should’ve been aware.”
The tribes of Bulobiahu Island, the Naluknipa continent, and the Trivzul Deserts have been known to use this type of power. Ennor heard it from the tales and legends told by the tribes, including one with Sonohs and Skiasig, but he didn’t expect an ambush like this nor witnessed it. There was no way for him to indicate they were real outside of fire-gatherings. Even in his own expeditions, the transition from a galley to any chief never involved war magic.
During his apprenticeship with his father, he was never known to travel through a desert with a fleet of caravans. Ennor nearly dropped the smooth, pebble-polished pot as he remembered that the conditions of the Lobia Desert caused him to never return. Ennor never went on that expedition but he did recall his father’s being afflicted with an exotic disease.
He threw the pot as far as his remaining strength allowed him over the purple horizon, and swung his ax at an empty caravan. With the outrage of his incompetence, he continuously hacked the chipping wooden frame until Sokoxo restrained him. His anger turned to sadness, as he realized that all of the camels were slashed corpses.
“We weren’t the main targets,” Bosuah said, looking alongside Ennor at the slaughter.
Ennor anxiously confirmed the real reason the bandits rode. It was based on his father’s accounts. He said coldly, “This was what Bulobiahu have been known to do in raids. You kill an enemy caravans’ camels…”–He could see two of the remaining bandits riding away on their horses in the distance–“…then you kill the enemy with the desert.”
The caravans were no longer driven but pushed and pulled by the servants, including the guards who kept an eye on them. The remaining chests were put into two of the caravans while the wounded were put in the last. There was no time to provide proper burials for the dead. Ennor and Sokoxo were left to walk ahead of them while Bosuah continued to lead the way alongside the veterans, who only lost one.
Ennor was thankful that he didn’t bring Oarant into the chaos and the bandits didn’t steal his golden figurine in his pocket. He grabbed it, as though his life would be preserved by every intensity. Konsegmog. Please darken the sky and pour your coin-rain.
“How would I explain this to the Chief?” Ennor referred to the remaining chests to Sokoxo. The milk and the fruit he ate last night started bubbling in his throat. Not even knowing Chief Norliik’s reaction felt worse than expecting a harsh one; and the longer it took to reach him, the more the urge to vomit grew.
“Perhaps, it would depend on the number of dead,” said Sokoxo.
Ennor managed to decipher what he meant. “If Chief Norliik was successful with little casualties on his side, then he wouldn’t have to worry about needing lots of armor.”
“But, what if he was losing?” Ennor reverberated the tutoring from his father in the art of persuasion, by including into the discussion all avenues of possibilities and coming to conclusions for them.
Sokoxo thought of this. “Maybe he might make us his warriors.”
Ennor snickered, “You know that we aren’t the Onkoglohm of Pakhankasp’s time. We have the savvy to make trade and escape.”
“Which type of savvy, then?”
“Well.” Ennor pondered on how to convince the Chief that there was a shorter supply than anticipated. “We could tell him that the Ioupa no longer have abundance since the Khusoei Dynasty are no longer in control.”
Bosuah disagreed, “He is familiar with the demise of the Khusoei Empire.”
Ennor struggled to keep walking through the sand constantly sinking his strapped boots. He could also feel his trousers tighten around his legs due to the heat of the sand. He noticed that there were no game nearby. He determined this because he developed animal detection from when his father sent him in the jungle to become a man. He found no footprints or noises of foxes, birds, or gazelles. There was only the winding trail behind him and red sand, a few wildflowers, and the oak meadows and mountains mockingly positioned beyond.
Guiskal chuckled, “It was said that Logabhog pissed all over this island and the lush lands were turned into sand.”
Although he didn’t want religion to become used obscenely, it wasn’t Konsegmog who was mentioned. Trying to keep appearance, he both declared and threatened, “You’d best start praying towards the god of fire”–He turned to Ulittak, who was shorter than Guiskal–“What can you tell me about the nearest village?”
Ulittak peered forward, “There doesn’t seem to be any within our distance.”
“A shame,” said Gutaso. “We would need a place to make ours.”
“If we wanted to do that,” Lom grunted. “Then we’d be riding horses instead of camels.”
“Not only that.” Ennor wasn’t too concerned with pillaging and forcing unwelcome villagers to provide them hospitality. His focus rested on getting the metals delivered to the loyal Chief. “But where there’s a village, there’s a well.”
His throat dried at the thought of water nearby. He turned to Bosuah. “Is there any camel’s milk left?”
“I’ll check.” Bosuah ran towards the remaining caravans.
Ennor turned back to the horizon to find nothing, not even the meadows or the mountains. His heart and stomach contorted at the thought of being lost with hunger. He was startled by Gutaso. “I hope that I’m not struck with heat dreams.”
“No,” Ennor said. “There doesn’t seem to be anything beyond us.”
Bosuah rushed to Ennor, “There’s nothing left.”
Just those mere words caused Ennor to stagger, only to be supported by Bosuah. He wrapped his arms around him. “Please come into a caravan.”
Gutaso clenched his spear. “The servants probably kept it to themselves”–He stomped towards the caravans–“I’ll slice it out of them.”
Guiskal blocked Gutaso with his own spear. “Do not act this way!”
“What are we going to eat then?!”
Guiskal swung his spear at Gutaso’s shoulder. “Maybe you!”
Bosuah set Ennor on the ground and joined the companions in restraining them. He and Lom kept Guiskal locked in their grip along with Gutaso in Ulittak’s and Sokoxo’s. Ennor picked himself up without falling and confiscated both of their spears, with Gutaso refusing, only for him to comply with Ennor’s knife pointed at his callused knuckles.
“I will not tolerate such behavior!” Through his raspy whinny, Ennor went from a weak expedition leader to a scion of a once-prideful family of Spoil-Sharers. “I am still your Prince, and anyone who acts like this will be left to rot! Understood?!”
Then he realized that there was only one of him.
“And what right do you have as a young Prince?” Lom let go of Guiskal and walked slowly towards Ennor. “Never mind a son of a disgraced family?”
Lom was a young, roaming warrior before he came to the service of Ennor’s great-grandfather, Sansimo’im, prior to his exile. Lom only came back to the service of the Sansimo’im family after the return of Vantanjao’ia because the retainer he served didn’t pay him well enough. Ennor always understood placing wealth above honor, but now that understanding might kill him.
Ennor readied the spears. “I’m the one who’s leading this expedition…”
“To what purpose? So Bhokoig can fatten himself?”
“So we can have another Chief as an ally.”
“Just like how the Khusoei wanted allies to take them over?!”
Although he had two weapons used by elite warriors, he still felt weak, especially since he was never trained to fight with a spear. His fear kept him from dropping his newly acquired weapons, even as his arms shook with a hungry trembling. Ennor stepped back as Lom got closer and pulled out his ax. His glaring eyes materialized into a sickly purple.
He no longer feared the wrath of Chief Norliik or even from Spoil-Sharer Bhokoig. Ennor Sansimo’im feared the Lobia Desert herself.
He struck at Lom, who managed to dodge both of the strikes. Since the spears felt heavy, he couldn’t react quickly enough to Lom cutting his ankle. Ennor landed in the ground with a gash that caused him to scream. His body felt compromised by pain and couldn’t get up to dodge Lom’s final blow.
Before he could finish Ennor, Sokoxo managed to cut down Lom, whose corpse landed just beside him.
Through his foggy vision, he could see that there was carnage like the bandit raid; only now it involved the expedition band killing itself. Some of the veterans developed purple eyes while the sane ones fought against them. The servants and the guards were killing each other underneath the sweltering, blinding sun.
“Where are you, Konsegmog?” Ennor moaned. I want a coin-rain not to enrich myself, but to catapult metals from above with fiery speed upon every warrior around me! He couldn’t reach for his figurine, since his entire body numbed. His consciousness, his hope of bringing the Sansimo’im family out of shame, and his ambition to carve a Spoil for himself were fading.
While he felt dizziness in his sight and mind, Ennor only contained hate within his heavy breathing. His hands weakly trembled with the desire to plunge an ax into Bhokoig’s heart. It was he who wanted Ennor to go on this expedition. Bhokoig just didn’t want to do it himself! How cowardly! A real man takes and gives at his own expense! He fought to stay awake even as everything around him blackened. I’m not going to die! I’m not going to die…!
Ennor found that his foot was bandaged. He could barely move his toes with painful exertion. His head felt nimble due to not wearing his hood. Just above him hovered an old Bulobiahu woman whose copper skin was wrinkly and tattooed on her chin with a triangle and her cheeks with crossed lines. She not only fixed his ankle, but she also presented him with a leg of mutton.
He didn’t feel the need to devour it, since he felt a strange sense of dislocation.
“Ongho-agh?” he told the woman. Where am I?
She replied that he was in the territory of Chief Norliik.
Realizing he didn’t have his figurine, he searched through his pockets until he found it. He was relieved that it wasn’t stolen. There was a soft smile on his face, as he reaffirmed his faith in Konsegmog. He answered my prayer.
He got out of the bed with newly found energy, straining to remain standing without any assistance. The old woman picked him up when he almost fell back. She dressed him in the clothes and armor he wore and gave him a stick to support himself.
Covering his eyes, blood-red in the irises and sclerae, with his gloved hand, he could see that he was in a Grarosliik ruin. There were streets where the foliage grew from between the cracks, including palm trees overtaking some of the stones. The houses were made of ashlar stone redder than the desert, baked by the sun, and inhabited by the Chief’s warriors. They looked from the houses, and up from the burial chambers that were carved into the earth.
Ennor could see inside there were workshops making their simple armor from furnaces. He knew they were a smelting culture, since Bosuah told him while leading him through the street, “Since Sonohs’ armor was cursed, the Chiefs after him believed that if they purchased any pillaged armor or swords, they would melt and forge it with a shaman’s servant to bless it.”
He walked, using his stick as a new leg, towards the town gates and looked at the collection of holes. At the fortress entrance, he could see that there were descending steps into one of the pit-towns. Some of the dead and wounded were either in the courtyard within or taken into the carved-in chambers. The pit-towns were interconnected, since he saw one woman enter a hole in one pit-town and came out in another. Ennor could see that the caravans were brought down through use of ropes that dangled from their corners.
Ennor turned to Bosuah. “What happened to the others?”
“Some of the servants and guards are left. Only Ulittak and Svasoriam are left.”
“What about Sokoxo?”
Bosuah said, “He was killed by Guiskal.” He put his hand on Ennor’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Ennor, nearly collapsing from held-in breath, nudged Bosuah to sit him on the ground, with his back resting on the side of a house.
“How could Guiskal do this?” It wasn’t just the killing of Sokoxo that deeply troubled Ennor, but also the fact that Guiskal, his most trusted warrior, did it. Ennor knew him as a frequent companion of his father on his expeditions, including the Lobia Desert.
“He was overcome by a spirit,” Bosuah said matter-of-factly.
Ennor trusted his every word, but he still could not believe that a magical force overtook them. “What can the Chief tell me about this spirit?”
Ulittak came out of one of the houses, where he was surveying a smelting workshop. He walked over to Ennor and Bosuah with his newly polished armor.
“These metalworkers here can really bite some coins off you,” he said. “Anyway, I’ll come with you to see this Chief.”
“I will say that you should always expect any chief to be void of propriety,” Ennor told Ulittak. He knew Ulittak as being more skilled in the battlefield than a throne. “I can remember walking in while a chief was opening up an enemy chief’s torso for offerings to his god.”
Ulittak huffed, “I would expect that from King Pakhankasp.”
At the center of the town-turned-fortress rested the Chief’s house with walls surrounding the courtyard. It had an entering stairway of the second floor. Inside the main room, the walls were lined with Grarosliik pottery made from alabaster and glass that reflected off the sun outside. It had two stories, including a third carved into the bedrock. Even this temple dedicated to the Lokhayk gods had its exterior ravaged by stone bandits.
It had been a week since traveling from Onkoglohm to arriving at Chief Norliik’s fortress. It reminded him of traveling with his father to the Tugt’dzai Kingdom within the interior of the Ioupa Island, the breeding and burial ground of the Khusoei Empire; though the difference was that her desert wasn’t unbearably stretching.
The guard leered down at him, with his spear clutching in his hands, yet lowered it at the sight of the merchants.
Ennor stepped forward to address the guard “Et tghoam nwon.” Please let us through. Ulittak was jolted as he heard Ennor speak the throat-clearing eloquence of Bulobiahu.
The guards raised their bushy eyebrows at the fluency of an Onkoglohm Prince.
He concluded, “Ghoahat…”–He pointed at the gates–“…nOnkoglohm nessozhl.” We Onkoglohm bring metals.
The guards stepped aside to let Ennor, Ulittak, and Bosuah into the throne of the Chief. The sunlight from outside brought clarity to the throne room which exhumed a red tint from the walls and white from the cement floor.
They beheld Chief Norliik, who had elderly frailty, shriveled and pruned skin, and foggy-eyed blindness, sitting on his throne fashioned from a horned altar. About the top of his throne were an interconnected line of skulls of all the Chiefs he personally killed. His royal garments had intimidatingly bright colors of purple, green, and yellow; which made it clear to all who crossed him that he was the Chief.
Just behind the throne was a façade of an elegantly contoured woman. She was braiding her dark hair, which circled around her naked, olive breast. Once it was beautifully decorated, now it was browning and peeling away into obscurity. Age may have been kinder to the painting than the woman herself.
They landed their knees on the piercingly hot entrance. However many times he had to kneel on hot surfaces, Ennor still bit his lip. This time, Ennor needed Bosuah to pick him up.
In Bulobiahu language, he introduced himself as Ennor Sansimo’im of the Bhokoig Spoil of the Onkoglohm Kingdom. The Chief smiled with what remained of his crooked, brown teeth, and lifted his bony finger, gesturing them to rise.
While Father Usumi taught Ennor a language, Vantanjao’ia had a peculiar way of testing him, by making him translate his every word as his intermediary. He learned that the Bulobiahu tongue was peppered by the Grarosliik, with “Chief” being given by the Grarosliik conquerors to the Bulobiahu kings who swore their allegiance. Just like how the Khusoei called their loyal Chiefs their King-Generals.
Through Bosuah, who’s translation was more trusted, Chief Norliik bragged that the Grarosliik were an older civilization than the Khusoei. He also talked about how his race’s father was the Grarosliik conqueror Kluravoa and their mother was the Lobia Desert.
It’d be a daring image to conjure of a warrior sticking his manhood into the sand.
Ulittak sat down on one of the chests and glanced from Ennor to Bosuah to the Chief. It was common knowledge that the Grarosliik were a decadent people from the Lokhayk Lands who brought dyed fabric to the Ioupa and the Bulobiahu–which was why the Chief wore a purple sash from his lanky shoulder to his pot-bellied waist.
Ennor reverted back to his own Onkoglohm language. “I want to talk about den iasnen.” The metals. His heart ached and uplifted. “We have the chests of metals, but some were stolen by a group of bandits.” It was a straightforward statement, which Chief Norliik understood well as he stated in his throaty language. Bosuah interpreted, “His brother, Ehaoh, may have sent those bandits to purposefully kill our camels.”
Ennor knew Bosuah as only speaking Onkoglohm for business, while reserving Bulobiahu for royal correspondence. The last time he met Bosuah, it was when he served under his father in negotiating with a Chief that Bosuah served before Chief Norliik.
Ennor was confused. “Has he been known to do that?”
Chief Norliik said, through Bosuah, that his power came from the desert. Ennor’s mind halted. The suspicions he held bore truth, that there really was magic involved.
“I assume he actually means that? Not in a boastful way?” Or both.
Ehaoh can make his enemies see only a never-ending desert and leave them to kill each other within the possession of a spirit. This was the reason why Chief Norliik’s warriors stayed close to the fortress. It also applied to Ehaoh’s warriors, since Chief Norliik was also assisted by a spirit.
It made Ennor shiver, thinking about how evil spirits could control people in their most savage state. Although he was aware of his Tispag beginnings, he didn’t think that supernatural forces could play a role outside of the great crossing from Tispag to Ioupa to Onkoglohm Island.
“Was it how you found us?”
Chief Norliik nodded. Following the trail of Ehaoh’s spirit, he sent his warriors to bring the band into immediate hospitality and his only shaman to ward away the demon, which flew from Chief Norliik’s tribe to the band. Ennor felt disheartened, hoping that Konsegmog really did answer where he really was, but he also felt calmer as he was finally given answers to the murders he saw.
Ulittak, upon being told the translation, asked, “Why couldn’t he just kill us with his magic?”
Ennor raised his index finger, biding for silence. Bosuah translated the sentence. Had he translated everything Svasoriam purged from his mouth, it would’ve cost the band more than just their metals. Bosuah turned from the Chief to Ulittak. “Ehaoh wants to maintain his mystique and only allow a few number of survivors to tell.”
Chief Norliik said that he didn’t know if Bosuah told them, but Chief Skiasig was his ancestor. At that point, Ennor was not as surprised as Ulittak. It actually continued to make Ennor calmer inside, since he was no longer ignorant of a power beyond his control.
Chief Norliik recounted through Bosuah, “Skiasig was a Lokhayk name, but the magic he used was from Bulobiahu Island. After having killed Sonohs, he exacted revenge by conquering Sonohs’ desert-tribe and becoming the new Chief. Then, he conquered this Grarosliik town and killed its general.”
Although Ennor wanted to hear more, he didn’t want to waste the Chief’s time, seeing him adjust himself on his throne. “I want to talk about the price for the metals.”
With a chuckle, the Chief said he could not have the approximation when the metals were already being melted.
Or I could just shove that molten sludge down your throat? Ennor would’ve said–and done–this in his villa, but if he said it here, it would be his throat that would taste the metal. Although he had the trade savvy of a Ioupa, he still had the violence of a Tispag and a Bulobiahu.
“We still need to be able to return to our Kingdom with your proof of loyalty.”
Chief Norliik suggested that the rest of the band could serve to fight against his brother’s warriors.
We are not mercenaries.
“I will remind you that my father is a member of the Sansimo’im family and is a very important man,” Ennor slightly lied. “If you harm me, I promise that there will be a group of warriors that will want to meet you. And they won’t be selling metals, but wearing them.”
Considering how Chief Norliik had magical powers like his brother, it was a futile threat. But Bosuah explained, “He is old and blind and only has his shaman to rely on for drawing his blood in order to conjure his inherited magic. He also doesn’t want to start a war with Spoil-Sharers from another island when he is already fighting his brother.”
So the Chief promised to send Ennor and his band back to Onkoglohm Kingdom with the shaman’s escort. Ennor promised that he will return to Onkoglohm with a payment smaller than the original amount.
Chief Norliik called out a servant to bring a chest. The servant came from the room behind his throne bearing a chest as wide as his shoulder blades, placed it before Ennor, and opened it to reveal copper coins. Ennor took one of them to reflect on its authenticity. On one side was a figure bearing a spear. King Pakhankasp. He turned the other side to reveal a horse’s head. On the Pakhankasp side, he found a legend which was engraved Onkoglom Edsos, which was Ioupa for Good Onkoglohm.
Any Tispag warrior would’ve accepted the task of killing his brother and getting a bigger reward from Chief Norliik, but Ennor knew not to fight against magic. I’d rather be cowardly and still have my villa.
From inside the forecastle of the Prince’s Fire, Ennor could see the theaters, baths, shops, taverns, inns, and apartments that were made from the mixture of volcanic sand, lime, and sea-water. Vines and trees grew on their exteriors.
Above, the sionangl flew over the Onkoglohm Kingdom. They were known in the Onkoglohm tongue as “berry-wings,” so called since they were relied on by the king-general Pakhankasp as he and his horde of 10,000 Onkoglohm ancestors crossed the waters, by following the flocks of these birds as they flew around an island that grew a certain berry they ate. The sionangl served as survival, now they only serve as annoyance by spilling white droppings all over the deck and the oars.
He was usually taken to piloting a ship himself and looking down at the Salaga Sea, but his ankle and his experience prevented him. Instead, he sat on his feathery bed. Ennor wanted to take his knife and slash it repeatedly to vent his rage from his powerlessness. Instead he clenched his fists.
He heard a knock on his door. Ennor answered whoever it was to come in. Svasoriam staggered with the bandaged wound on his side. He slumped onto a chest near the door and looked at Ennor.
“I-I came to apologize.” Svasoriam was burdened with these types of words, which was why they came out in a weak shiver. Ennor expected nothing more than a snappy remark about how the gods of the Onkoglohm, the Ioupa, and the Bulobiahu had forsaken him.
“Is that right?”
“You remember how I said I wanted a warrior’s death?” Svasoriam lowered his head. “I thought it would be quick.”
“It was painful?”
“Yes, very, very painful. I also remember feeling only anger.” Svasoriam struggled to say anything. “I’m thankful that Bosuah helped me into a caravan when the bandits attacked, as well as being restrained by him when everyone was killing each other. I remember wanting to kill someone in that mood.”
He looked directly at Ennor with his blue eyes. “You.”
That simple word would inspire nightmares in Ennor. Not only did he nearly experience death, but there were other people in his trust who would’ve done it. The crumbling of that bond was what fogged his eyes and ached his head while on the Prince’s Fire sailing back.
Was it really that spirit that tried to kill us? Or was it our own madness?
“So you’re aware of Ehaoh’s evil spirit?”
“Bosuah told me everything while I was recovering. I didn’t believe him at first; nor did I believe that Sokoxo and a lot of the front guard died.”
Throughout his time aboard, when he wasn’t writing his report, Ennor mourned to Konsegmog for the dead, including his dear friend, Sokoxo. A death of a friend was a basic reality among the Onkoglohm and the other hordes. Ennor would try to adapt and find other companions. I want to name my heir after him.
“I didn’t know you cared about Sokoxo.”
“I didn’t think that anything could kill him or any of the veterans.”
He still did not expect Svasoriam to change his own personality. Ennor had plenty of brushes with death, but he already received intense training from Guiskal. What left him in disbelief was that even his mentor succumbed easily to supernatural forces. All of the hours and years spent could not withstand that. Would all of my bravery become wasted? If only Father Usumi was alive to answer.
“Do you pray to Konsegmog?”
“Sometimes. Do you always pray to Him?”
“For all things I need…”–Ennor pulled out his figurine–“…And want.”
“Why for matters outside of wealth?”
Ennor harkened one of the lessons about the Onkoglohm wealth god from Father Usumi. “Konsegmog offers prosperity outside of wealth. In my case, I pray to prosper from this pain.”
The marble streets, made from heat-crystallized limestone quarried from Ioupa and Emalf, which once decorated the surface with shiny scatterings of yellow, white, purple, ivory, red, and pink now crackled with green from the grass that poked through. The forum populated with white togas worn by the Spoil-Sharers and the King at the colonnaded entrance of the basilica; and by Ennor and the warriors. Ennor stood in the front of his band and alongside the other Princes. Only the King wore the purple sash. Just like the Chief.
The Spoil-Sharers, their retainers, and their attendants bowed in a wave of obedience as King Sgoyaso I waved his hand. He was a middle-aged man with wrinkles on his face. Upon his peppered hair were golden wreaths. Pronouncements in the stentorian Ioupa tongue were rung out throughout the city by him. “Ub ep Idaosoi visaompom…” May the Gods bless us…
He started his speech, celebrating the great crossing of Pakhankasp and the making of the Kingdom. Ennor memorized every single word with a bored desire for it to be over.
He looked at the apartments surrounding him. There were flags wreathed from the windows signifying the tribal groups who pledged loyalty to Pakhankasp during his half-century rule. The flags containing rams, baboons, olives, and camels represented the Bulobiahu and Naluknipa traders; the galleys, helmets, spears, and horses were used by the descendants of the Tispag migrants; and the papayas, iguanas, and maize symbolized the Rutan tribes. There was also evident intermingling, with flags containing two sigils juxtaposed to create a new sigil such as a spear-grasping warrior riding a giant pig.
Among the Spoil-Sharers was Bhokoig, who was noted by his weight. He wasn’t as large as Oarant, but his size was noticeable even underneath his toga. He had red, pouty lips and white hair that continued to fall off the top of his head. He definitely looks more Ioupa than Onkoglohm.
He sent his attendants to give each of his retainers a share in the form of a silken bag of coins–silver, bronze, copper.
It was also normal for Ennor to join this process since he took over his father’s position as retainer; but right now it felt eternal, not just because of his throbbing ankle. With intense focus, he watched the attendants, dressed in simple togas, come to each of the retainers with their bags. This was the first time he worried deeply about failure.
Before one of the attendants reached Ennor, Bhokoig, who observed him the whole time, walked from the steps and approached him. He spoke to Ennor in Ioupa, “Diaomos pom…”–You cost us…–“…our elite warriors, gave us less than expected, and left Oarant to the galley.”
Although every Onkoglohm, rich and poor, spoke Onkoglohm to their parents, landowners, Bulobiahu traders, and companions; they also spoke Ioupa to their Spoil-Sharers and Kings–and their Emperors when they ruled.
“There were agsakhosaios sadosaoi, uhi Telnigog.” Unexpected events, my Spoil-Sharer.
“I am aware of what you reported. You allowed the superstitions of some Bulobiahu tribes to ruin the transaction.”
He has clearly never been to the Lobia Desert. “Ulittak and Svasoriam were witnesses.”
Ennor pointed behind to Ulittak and Oarant, who merely stared forward like the rest of the retainers and didn’t offer their accounts.
“Yes. Witnesses to a bandit raid and a sweltering desert. Basic realities of the Bulobiahu.”
“That was why I felt it safe to command Oarant to mind the galley.”
“You were told to bring Oarant with you on your expedition.”
“There is something more sinister involved, uhi Telnigog.”
“What is sinister is your legacy.” It was not the first time Spoil-Sharer Bhokoig made mention of Ennor’s family’s disgrace; and as always Ennor resisted the urge to strike his Spoil-Sharer across the face in front of the King.
“You didn’t damage the Prince’s Fire,” Bhokoig sneered. “That’s edsos at least.” He walked back to the steps.
Ennor was only given a handful of silver coins.
He staggered to the table, supported by one of the villa servants. On the oak surface were dishes of bass, mullet, squid, olives, figs, mangos, papayas, and a bowl of bacon stew. Draped from the ceiling crucks above him hung the flags of the Sansimo’ims, represented by a silver coin on a dark red background; the Uzbogts–Ennor’s maternal family–had the grey flag with a green olive; and the Luobaeru servant-tribe had the brown background with a white ocelot.
Give the ocelot a coin and an olive and it’ll serve you.
“Taneisma, Raozleis,” Ennor thanked with a forced smile. “You always are the kind face of our estate.”
Raozleis showed her crooked teeth in reply. She sat him on one of the chairs next to his father. Vantanjao’ia wore a simple white robe over his complexion paled and pox-marked by the same Bulobiahu disease that afflicted Oarant’s father. When he was younger, he avoided his father in order to not see him cry. Instead, he always made getting into his studies and recording the merchandise sold on his own expeditions both priorities and excuses. Perhaps Oarant feels this way as well. Then again, his family never had to redeem themselves.
“Do you need anything else?”
“No,” Ennor simply said. Raozleis walked back to her duties.
When Vantanjao’ia and the exiled Sansimo’ims returned from the Rutan lands, they brought the Luobaeru’s labors and cuisine, including their agricultural practice of ugilkleis, which consisted of burning rotten vegetation and using it as fertilizer. Ennor was always thankful that the storehouse wasn’t actually on fire, but the pungent smoke smell permeated the fruits. Although he never visited the Rutan lands, his father told Ennor of its jungles and how the word ugilkleis entered the Onkoglohm spoil of words as a verb meaning “to farm.”
I want Luobaeru Island to become the Ennor Spoil.
Ennor limped up, reached into his pockets, took out the rewards of his expedition, and slammed them on the table.
“This is all I was paid! How am I supposed to pay the collectors with these?!”
“They always let you pay extra next time. There are still Ioupa landowners left to tax.”
“And what if they all return to their island?”
“Your ankle would’ve healed by then.”
“What about right now?”
“Please rest yourself. Your mother and Raozleis are helping me just well; including Svasoriam, as is our custom.” According to Onkoglohm law, any companions of a Prince injured in an expedition would be treated at his Prince’s villa.
“It’s not that I can’t take care of you. It’s just…” Ennor slid back into his seat, but still had the energy to jump. He always found possible answers to a common problem, but now his ankle greatly limited his answers. “…I don’t want this to affect my future expeditions.”
“There’s more to life than expeditions.”
The feelings of the ocean air brushing against his face, sleeping wherever he went, and not having to rely on his family and servants were not fig skins to be burned. In some ways, they connected him to Pakhankasp’s warriors, not Sgoyaso’s. His injury, his powerlessness against Ehaoh’s supernatural madness, and the ownership of the Prince’s Fire being ceded to Spoil-Sharer Bhokoig dried his throat. They unmanned him and reduced him from a proud Prince, with the Salaga Sea as his large-breasted, wide-hipped bride, to a spayed pet. What will Amkoskorog think of me now?
“Why was I born into a family of cravens?!”
“We are not cravens! We are a saint-tutored race!”
While Bhokoig had the strength of his retainers, the Sansimo’im family had the guidance of Father Usumi, a famous Ioupa monk known for purifying the Luobaeru Island of her demons and bringing her back to the ownership of the Rutan and Ioupa gods. He taught Vantanjao’ia and his son how to write, which became crucial for the former’s loyalty under Bhokoig’s.
“Father Usumi’s education can’t buy back the villas and the forums taken from us by Bhokoig’s father.”
“With time it will. And with time, your ankle will heal.”
What made the experience at the Lobia Desert sharpen the pain in his ankle was that Bhokoig didn’t even believe him. Normally he would not expect him to heed any suggestions, but the fact that he did not entertain the thought of not carelessly sending his warriors into a desert that might hold magical danger–and that he had the authority to send them anyway–made Ennor so queasy he forced back his tears. I’d rather die righteously than menially.
Vantanjao’ia looked directly at Ennor with his own red-irised eyes. Although Vantanjao’ia became calmer after the disease, his eyes were the only lively part of him. Ennor knew that his father could read him, because he himself taught him such a skill on his journeys.
“You’ve thought of killing Bhokoig?”
Ennor nodded. He knows me too well.
His father sighed. “That Tispag fire-blood is within you. I would suggest you use it to restrain yourself.”
Ennor harkened one of Vantanjao’ia’s lessons. “I never act on impulse. That was what made this family lose their lands.”
“When you kill a figure of authority, we’ll lose more than our lands. One of your brothers, Toanast, keeps that in mind as he serves the King of the Tugt’dzai.”
“Sweet-Tongue.” Ennor recalled the Onkoglohm etymology of his brother’s name with a slightly snarling intonation. It was a name he was not born with, but one that was earned. In that expedition to the Tugt’dzai Kingdom, his father sent Toanast to be trained by one of Tugt’dzaw’s grandsons. He remembered that a lot of the sons of Onkoglohm warriors were sent to the Tugt’dzai to be trained as part of an alliance after the two Kingdoms were carved from the dead Khusoei Empire.
He desired his brother’s savvy, for it could have helped his talking Lom out of his possession. It brought a cold shiver to his back knowing that his band, once bound by a common destination, would hunt each other down. Ennor himself couldn’t tell his father about it, since he would be reminded that he was a weak Prince and still needed proper guidance. Instead, he said, “I understand why you never went back to the Lobia Desert. And why the Ioupa didn’t conquer further into the island.”
“I wouldn’t go back if they made me Chief of all Chiefs. It was also the reason why we preferred to conduct trade in the port towns and the underground villas. In the eyes of civilization. What was left of it. And let the desert-tribes do the ruling for the Kingdom.”
“I’m also sure you heard about what happened to Guiskal?”
“I’m truly sorry. He was a good friend of mine. I’m glad that Bosuah was with you. He at least knows how to tame Bulobiahu magic.”
I can’t bear to tell him the truth of what really happened. Ennor looked out of the window at the remains of a grey-green Ioupa aqueduct. In the age of the Emperors, it provided drinking water to the villa’s wealthy owners and their servants and guests. It could only decorate the villa in the age of the Kings; with oak and heather trees thriving in the spots and cracks where rainwater accumulated; with piles of crumbled debris due to lack of maintenance; and with parts that were carved by bandits.
“I also saw the ruins of the Grarosliik. They resemble the ruins of the Khusoei too much. So I have to ask…”
Ennor mustered the strength within him to speak the tongue of Sansimo’im’s father himself, even though his throat clogged as he tried to speak the words. “Veen kanser khaspa gikh an ultus angtun?” Will our power really live forever?
Vantanjao’ia tugged his grey, drooping moustache. Ennor felt nervous after he said that, since he always used the Tispag mother-language whenever he wanted a serious discussion with his father. It wasn’t hard for him to speak it, but it was no longer valuable when the alliance of the native Bulobiahu, the Rutan canoers, and the Tispag horde flourished into a Kingdom and a language.
He reverted back to Onkoglohm. “Van a?” Will it?
“Our power will be maintained not with the sword or the ax, but with coins.”
“Coins did not buy great-grandfather’s clemency.”
Ennor flinched, since a comment pertaining to his great-grandfather would have resulted in a slap. Instead Vantanjao’ia said as though forced, “Onkoglohm law is not something to be purchased. That’s why we never mistreat our servants and why we reward the industrious ones with their own plot of tilling land. Your great-grandfather, this family’s namesake, always made do with his servants as he pleased, which was what damned this family.”
Ennor changed the subject. “Concerning our power, it should be maintained not through the coin alone. The Uraxoi and their sea-lords were conquered by Khusoe; then the Khusoei were conquered by the King-General Tugt’dzaw. Who will conquer the Tugt’dzai? Just another barbarian horde. Not bought; but conquered.”
“We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those barbarian hordes.”
“If that is the case, if we really are destined to eternally scrap up dead civilizations, then I want to scrap up what’s left of the Khusoei Empire.” Which I’m sure is what Toanast is doing.
Then Ennor referenced Father Usumi’s comment on Pakhankasp’s carving of Onkoglohm Island. “Civilization is the colorful armor and ornate weapons scavenged from the naked corpse of a prideful warrior with no further use of them.”
Upon remembering the cities Ennor once saw that were converted from ruins, it was clear to him that prosperity was not limited to intricate baubles, but the bone, muscle, sinew, and marrow of the prideful. So long as the Khusoei, the Uraxoi, and the Grarosliik were to die, some other group would just consume their corpses. However shaken he was by his expedition, Ennor would be willing to trudge through hundreds of Lobia Deserts and fight hundreds of traitorous Svasoriams–if it meant carving himself a new Spoil or even a new Kingdom. It was not a coincidence that the Chief’s maniacal brother would keep me alive.
He told his father, “I only want Konsegmog to hear my prayer for a coin-rain, even if it drowns this forsaken island.”