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They continued on after the messenger, passing trough a bivouac of ambassadors who sought an audience with the rising star of the desert.  Among them were the merchants and caravans from the East and North: Karobi, Shantow, Emalay, and Shownoon.  Most obvious of all, they saw the enormous contingents of Salmonil warriors with five horses per soldier that kicked up such a cloud of dust that it at times it even blotted out the glaring desert light of Barea.  The word of their victories drew other nomadic tribes under the Salmonil banner like a vacuum.  From the territories they conquered they recruited more warriors, willing or not.  If willing, then they would share in the spoils; if unwilling, they would be marched out in front of the horde as a shield when attacking the next city. 

But even this mass of warriors in Serapool did not represent the full force under the Council of Tribes’ command.  (A third of their troops, about 20,000 in all, were away on a protracted campaign in the East against the Samar Tribe under General Araknik.  The Council of Tribes did not commit the remainder of their troops because they thought it would be an easy campaign.)  Though not yet at the zenith of its power, this confederation of pastoral tribes could now crush any resistance within a month’s journey and perhaps beyond.  The shear thunder of their hooves during battle necessitated the use of banner waving and not trumpets, as signal commands to cavalry divisions. 

Despite the huge numbers, military discipline under Araknik’s banner had shaped his division of this migratory mass into a quick strike invading force, albeit still hounded by superstition.  He provided his troops the cohesion they needed with advanced training, cunning tactics, fine weapons, and flexible logistics.  He was proving himself as a master of intellect, but of that twisted intellect which manipulates power to seize an empire for itself and its people; to take what it wants and destroy what it does not; to take every advantage without a pause of conscious introspection.  Time and again the Salmonil rolled out of the Erdi Desert in a dust cloud

“against sedentary societies whose misfortune it was to share time and space with them.”[1]  The fiefdoms that formerly vied for power among themselves, belatedly and futility turned their energies against the Gray Wolf and were spread like chaff in the wind for their efforts.  The Salmonil destroyed city after city, the multitudes flocking off before them to seek sanctuary.  No one could stop then.  Indeed, if no one stopped them soon, and if the shear size of their growing numbers would not create a logistic impossibility, then they would soon rule the entire Western Hemisphere of Epi.

Into this den of human domination rode Scabus followed by the curious.  He arrived at the central feature of Serapool, a single large habrit.  Outside, raised high for all to see, was the red yak tail standard, signifying war.  All parted before him and he entered the Council of Tribes’ habrit alone with scroll and gold tablet in hand.

Koric and Septic being among the first to arrive at the habrit behind the messenger, dismounted, and sat down among others of the scout class.  Someone brought food for all of them and they began eating and sharing stories of war and bravery.

Inside the tent, all gathered awaiting the news.  Ransis did not have to wait long for his eyes to become accustomed to the darkness because daylight streamed through the large smoke hole cut into the center of the tent roof.  (This was not Araknik’s dark tent with twisting pillars but the habrit used by the council of tribes.)  Since it was shortly after noon, the light fell slightly off center and directly upon the table of the Council of Tribes.  A display of gold gifts and rare trinkets had been laid on it.  From the traditional fire pit in the center of the habrit a yellow-orange light reflected off of the smoke curling up from it.  To his left and near the entrance stood a group of five or six visitors, 

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[1] National Geographic, Vol. 190, no. 6, p. 7.

 

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