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
and, when the time comes, they slaughter these
beasts ... their only neighbors.”
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?”
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.”
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.
grandmother,” coming closer to Talon and lowering his voice, “your
grandmother is a Salmonil tent maiden.”
horrified look crossed the boy’s face, something between pity and
fear. “Euuu ... how? Was she kidnapped and forced to do all their cooking?”
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.”
expression changed to disgust. “And
you married her?”
Do not be too disgusted, young one.
I may have married her, but since she’s your grandmother, that
makes you part Salmonil.”
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.
aren’t they vicious killers?”
Yes, they are killers. We
are all killers. Did we not
kill fish this afternoon and eat them tonight?”
but Papa, it’s not the same. I
mean, they kill people. Didn’t
they kill mom and dad?”
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?”
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.
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.”
you met them Papa?”
question broke the mood. His
grandfather shook his head and said slowly, “I will not say ... not here
... not now. The night