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Companion

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Prologue
Chapter 1
Interlude 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

 

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Grandpa shook his head.  “Lies.  I know from experience that they do not eat their prisoners.”  From the tone of his voice, it was clear that Endvar was not pleased with his grandson’s answer.  Talon hadn’t noticed it until now, but Berea’s fading light turned this formerly kind old man’s face into a livid blood red mask and it frightened him.  Endvar continued, “Those are lies told by people that don’t understand the way of the Salmonil warrior-herdsman.  The land itself made them hard.  You see, the harsh, barren climate of the southern plains allows only the strongest man or beast to survive.  They have learned to live alone on the plains with their herds of grazing hay-hochi and, when the time comes, they slaughter these beasts ... their only neighbors.”

Talon listened intently to every word his papa said.  Little was generally known about the Salmonil.  “But what does that have to do with you and grandma?”

Talon’s question seemed to catch his papa off guard as if he asked something he shouldn’t have.  Endvar looked gravely at his only grandson.  “What I’m about to tell you, you can not tell anyone else.  Those we want to know, already know.”

Talon gave a solemn nod.  He imagined some great terrible secret.  Perhaps she lived near the Salmonil a long time ago or maybe she was even kidnapped by them.

“Your grandmother,” coming closer to Talon and lowering his voice, “your grandmother is a Salmonil tent maiden.”

A horrified look crossed the boy’s face, something between pity and fear.  “Euuu ... how?  Was she kidnapped and forced to do all their cooking?”

Endvar smirked.  “That’s the first time I have heard that response.  No, my grandson, they did not make her cook and they did not kidnap her.  She is Salmonil.”

Talon’s expression changed to disgust.  “And you married her?”

“Yes.  Do not be too disgusted, young one.  I may have married her, but since she’s your grandmother, that makes you part Salmonil.”

Talon stared blankly at him for a long time.  His people held such a prejudice against the Salmonil that it came as quite a shock that he was actually one of them.  Physically, there was no obvious difference between his people and the Salmonil, because they were one people long ago.  It was the contrast in their culture that drove a wedge of distrust and hatred among them.

“But aren’t they vicious killers?”

“Killers?  Yes, they are killers.  We are all killers.  Did we not kill fish this afternoon and eat them tonight?”

“Yes, but Papa, it’s not the same.  I mean, they kill people.  Didn’t they kill mom and dad?”

“Yes, but that only came later.  Raiders from the Nomar Tribe killed your parents but weren’t your parents trying to help the Ingaray, another tribe of the Salmonil?  You see, Talon, at first they only killed animals, their own livestock.  They usually kill running animals from the saddle.  This in itself is no easy task since the rider must use both hands to shoot the arrow while at a full gallop and steering with his legs.”  Endvar did his best to demonstrate with his legs straddling bags of supplies and pretending to shoot an arrow of to the side.  Talon’s mind filled in the rest with vivid imagery.  “This ability has made the Salmonil herdsman-warrior and his steed a formidable fighting unit.  They can travel in one day what would take an infantry army four days of almost non-stop marching.  Even worse, when the Salmonil were on the move, they could continue to travel at this pace from one day to the next comfortably.”  Turning to his audience of one he asked, “And do you know why?”

Talon shook his head quickly.  Berea now lit the whole porch up with the eerie red glow.  Alone with this red-faced old man telling secret stories gave the lad a thrill of terror.

“I will tell you,” he continued with a note of satisfaction.  “They are comfortable traveling like that because they are nomads.  They can cover whole regions in a matter of days.  They have different groups among themselves, ranks of men and tribes of people.  One tribe is devoted entirely to the work of a blacksmith, shoeing ponies and making swords.  But among these groups the shadow knights are the worst.  They all fight together in one well trained unit under the direct command of their generals and chieftains.”

“Have you met them Papa?”

That question broke the mood.  His grandfather shook his head and said slowly, “I will not say ... not here ... not now.  The night approaches.”

 

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