When Tris finally returned from scouting, I was discussing some things with Shar. He was still refusing to help me, but it was just a matter of time. Eventually, he would see that he had no other options, but for now I was happy to just discuss strategy and tactics with him. He was quite knowledgeable and we got along well. I thought that he and I could be friends since we had quite a bit in common. He was also somewhat sarcastic, just like me.
Despite our friendly conversation, Shar was still a prisoner and so his guards were also present. With Tris now here, I asked the guards to bring Shar back to his tent and I beckoned Tris over to my side.
Tris had been busy a lot lately with scouting and I was eager to hear her report. Tris was not the only scout that had been sent out on a daily basis to search for the Fox-kin, but none of the other scouts had been able to locate the larger Foxkin tribe yet.
“Tris, you returned! Did you find the Foxkin tribe?” I was getting impatient since it had taken such a long time to locate them.
“Yes, I finally located them. They are about a day’s travel from here. They might already know we are coming.” Tris gave her information without much emotion in her voice, she seemed tired.
“Everything okay with you Tris? I feel like you have been working too hard. You have been out scouting constantly. Maybe you should get some rest since we now know where we are going.”
She sighed and replied in a tired voice, “Yeah, I think I will, thanks.”
Tris left the tent and headed to her own, to rest. It was too late in the day to continue traveling and so I spent the time in conversation with Reia and Allein.
“Reia, we will finally be able to meet with your uncle tomorrow. Can you tell me more about him?”
Reia didn’t answer right away, she was collecting her thoughts. Allein was happily humming something while sitting next to me. She was beginning to be less clingy, but she almost never left my side.
“My uncle is very sly. We need to be very careful when dealing with him. He won’t refuse my challenge, he can’t, but he will definitely try to cheat.” Her anger increased with each word.
I knew there must be something more to this story so I asked her.
“When I was very young, my father was Khan of the Foxkin tribe. He was the oldest son and he inherited the title of Khan from my grandfather. My uncle wasn’t satisfied with that and he challenged my father to a duel for leadership of the tribe. I was too young to understand at the time, but I heard stories. My father was the most powerful magic caster in the tribe, no one could match him. My uncle was not nearly as proficient in magic as my father, but he somehow defeated him. He… did…. something, to my father, but my father won’t speak of it! Ever since then, my father hasn’t been able to use magic.”
Reia poured everything out and I could see that this pained her. For her, it was probably humiliating, even though it wasn’t something that happened to her personally. I couldn’t really relate to it, because I had been just a salesman after all. It wasn’t like I was the son of a king or anything. It was a matter of pride I suppose. I never really had much pride myself, before coming to this world anyway.
Even Allein seemed upset at what she said and tried to console her, “Don’t worry Reia. We are going to take back the tribe from your uncle. You will definitely beat him.”
Even if I couldn’t relate, I felt anger towards her uncle because he had caused her pain. It had nothing to do with me, and even happened way before I ever came to this world, but I wasn’t about to just sit there and be okay with someone I loved be in pain.
“Reia, no matter what happens, you better beat that bastard!”
She looked at me with watery eyes and gave me a firm nod with clenched teeth. Her cuteness right now was on a whole other level!
“Even if you lose, I’ll still be there for you!” I teased her with that and she punched me in the arm.
The three of us laughed and that released some of the tension in the room. We continued to talk for a little while longer until the three of us went to sleep. Even though we hadn’t had some official marriage ceremony, we were considered married and so both of them joined me in my tent and we slept next to each other. Demihumans didn’t have in their traditions something like a wedding ceremony. There also wasn’t much privacy in the tent. I’m going to need a bigger tent. Actually, it is more similar to a yurt than a tent. It doesn’t really translate well to English.
Of course, it wasn’t as if the tent had any rooms or walls in it. We had made a little corner where we could sleep peacefully using hides we hung. It was still a bit of a strange situation for me. I wasn’t used to having so little privacy in my own home so to speak, but I was beginning to become accustomed to it.
We spent almost the entire next day traveling. We didn’t stop to hunt, or train, our goal was to reach the Foxkin camp as soon as possible. When our caravan had finally reached the camp, we were greeted by around three hundred armed Foxkin warriors. It wasn’t exactly a friendly welcome, but the Foxkin didn’t attack, they were only there to intimidate us.
They looked fierce, but I would bet that our warriors were stronger and much better organized than they were. Even their greater number would not guarantee them victory. We had spent a lot of time training and leveling up our forces and even though these Foxkin lived on the Plains of Sorrow, they were most likely still hunters before they were warriors. Not to mention their weapons and armor were much more primitive than the ones we had acquired from the Kingdom’s soldiers which were weapons crafted by true weapon and armor smiths.
Our forces had already become soldiers and you could see it in their bearing and the way they carried themselves. The Foxkin civilians in my tribe watched the the three hundred warriors warily, but they were not afraid. They had lined up on both sides of our tribe and watched with glowering gazes. They were clearly not happy to see us, and when their eyes met mine, the anger and shock grew. They were angry to see exiles returning, but they were definitely furious that not only one, but three humans were among them.
The Foxkin camp was quite large, much larger than my tribe’s camp. That was obvious of course, our tribe had barely ten percent of the population of the larger Foxkin tribe. The camp looked like a tent city, with tents everywhere. Foxkin of all types were approaching us, their curious eyes trying to see what all the fuss was. Many Foxkin children could be seen running about and looking at us with wide eyes, especially me. None of them seemed happy to see me, but I was prepared for this sort of treatment and so I shrugged it off.
When we had finally passed through the line of warriors, we were greeted by a Foxkin which looked a lot like the old chief, only younger. He was slim and barechested, much like the rest of the male Foxkin here in the camp. The women wore tunic style shirts and skirts, while the men wore trousers made of fur, but nothing else. They all wore leather shoes that looked similar to moccasins. My tribe had already partially taken on the style of the Kingdom and so I was surprised to see these Foxkin wearing their more traditional clothing. It was different from what I expected, but it made sense.
The old chief had been walking by my side, he wanted to be the first to greet his younger brother. Reia too was standing beside me, proudly and she was anxious to finally meet her uncle after so long. Allein walked proudly, following a few steps behind with her brother despite the menacing atmosphere. She had the regal bearing of a queen despite only being a lowly chief’s wife. That would change though. Shar was somewhere further back, I think he was doing his best to go unnoticed under their hostile gazes.
“Older brother! It has been a long time since I saw your face.” The Khan of the Foxkin tribe smiled, but anyone could tell his smile was fake, he was not at all happy to see his brother.
“Yes, more than twenty years now since you exiled me and my tribe from here.”
“And, yet here you are..” his younger brother’s smile had somewhat faded from his face.
The Khan turned his eyes on me and his became menacing.
“What is this human doing here?” He asked with a low growl.
Most likely he already knew that I was among the tribe from their scouts, but he was putting on a show and pretending to be furious.
The old chief calmly replied, “Not a human, but a chief. He is the chief of this tribe. He and my daughter have become husband and wife. You remember your niece, don’t you?”
This time the Khan had a look of genuine surprise on his face. I don’t think he expected this development. Before he could say anything more, Reia stepped out in front of me.
“Uncle Liran, do you remember me? I was barely two when you exiled my father from the tribe.” she said that surprisingly calm. I was impressed that she hadn’t lost it despite knowing her feelings towards her uncle.
His fake smile was back on his face and he threw up his arms in an exaggerated manner, “Of course, how could I forget my beloved niece! My how you’ve grown Reia!”
For a second there, I thought I had seen a fleeting lecherous gaze, but I thought it might be my imagination. He was her uncle after all, was he really sick enough to look at his own niece like that?
“That’s right, I have grown…. strong. As fiancee to the chief of our tribe, I challenge you for leadership of the Foxkin!”
She didn’t wait long to drop that bomb, and all of the Foxkin listening gasped in surprised. There were rumblings throughout the crowd as the Foxkin spoke in shock to one another. They couldn’t believe that a Human had become chief of a tribe and that he had become husband to the daughter of the old Khan.
A vein was practically bulging out of the current Khan’s forehead. I don’t think he expected things to play out like this. Maybe he thought they were coming back to beg to be allowed to rejoin the tribe. Too bad for him because Reia was definitely going to pummel this guy!
Khan Liran started trying to weasel his way out of the duel and said, “This is ridiculous! A Human, leader of a tribe? I should have you all imprisoned right now! Foxkin warriors, seize them!”
The old chief stood firm and bellowed at the top of his lungs, “By the ancient law and tradition of the Demihuman tribes, you must accept this challenge! Tribal chieftains, you know this to be truth!”
His words could be clearly heard across the crowd of Foxkin who were watching the confrontation with frozen attention. The Foxkin warriors tried to approach us with weapons at the ready but stopped at the stares of my own forces who also bore their weapons with ferocious intent.
Before any violence could take place, several older members of the crowd stepped forward. They had been listening to the exchange from within the crowd and yelled to the Foxkin warriors to stand their ground.
“Khan Liran, you know very well the law. You must accept the challenge or forever abandon your position! There is no exception in the old law under these…. circumstances.”
These older members of the Foxkin were other tribal chieftains who held authority within the larger clan. Their voices could not be silenced.
“Tch. Fine! I accept your challenge, Reia. I hope you’re prepared to die!” Khan Liran no longer felt the need for false smiles and instead wore a wicked expression.
Reia regarded her uncle with pity. She knew she was stronger than him, she could feel the difference in power between them. Her uncle was a devious and sly man, though, and she knew that he would have something up his sleeve.
“It is too late for a challenge now, why not enter the camp and rest for the night.” The Khan stared Reia down with a twisted smile as he said that.
I could tell that tomorrow would be quite the eventful day. I only hoped that Reia was wrong about her uncle, but the look in his eye told me that he was every bit as sly as she had said he was.
The caravan was allowed to enter unharmed, but we were forced to pitch our tents at the fringes of the camp. The other Foxkin didn’t seem to want anything to do with us and avoided our camp as if they were avoiding the plague. It was going to take time and a lot of effort to bring these people around but I was up to the task.
I was even beginning to feel excited by all of this. On Earth, I had some simple dreams of being a king and ruling my own country, but they were just fantasies. Who knew that it would one day become a reality?
It had taken a bit of time to set all the tents up and when we finally finished it was already late. Reia’s uncle was nowhere in sight and none of us sensed any danger so we relaxed our guards a bit. He probably wasn’t going to do anything tonight. If he did something, it would most likely happen tomorrow during the duel. I was worried about Reia, not because I didn’t believe in her but because I wasn’t sure what her uncle had planned.
Reia, Allein, Tris and I were sitting around a pit fire in the center of my tent discussing the next day’s duel.
“If what you say about your uncle is true Reia, then he will surely do something tomorrow during the duel. You have no idea what happened when he fought your father?”
If we knew what her uncle had done to her father, we might have an idea of what he was planning to do this time around, but Reia didn’t know the answer to that.
“I tried asking my father about it but he just doesn’t know how it happened. One second he was able to use magic and then the next, he had lost the ability. He lost the duel because of that and since then he hasn’t been able to use magic..” Reia had answered me, but it wasn’t really useful information.
“So there was nothing that happened or something he might have felt that caused him to lose the ability to use magic?” Tris asked Reia curiously.
“He couldn’t give me any details. It wasn’t an attack that he was aware of and there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. To him, it was as if his power just disappeared and never returned.” Reia replied.
“This isn’t getting us anywhere. We will just have to be extremely cautious tomorrow. There will most likely be a large crowd so it might be difficult to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. We will have to do the best we can. Let’s try setting up a heavy guard for this evening just in case and then tomorrow we will have our warriors spread throughout the crowd. If anything out of the ordinary happens, hopefully they can warn us or even stop it themselves. It will be difficult, though. We just don’t have enough people.”
The more I thought about it, the more worried I became. Khan Liran had a big advantage here. The crowds would be filled mostly with Fox-kin who were not exactly friendly to us. I would need to act and I had begun to form a plan in my head.
“Fayde, I think those preparations are the best we can do. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but it won’t matter. I will definitely win.” Reia was surprisingly calm and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit proud of her.
“But what if you lose the ability to use magic like your father?” That was my biggest concern because I could heal any injury, even life threatening ones. I wondered if my power could do something for her if she lost her magic. As I considered this, I realized that this was something I could in fact test.
“Don’t worry Fayde! Reia said she will win, just believe in her.” Allein said confidently.
She was clearly looking down on Reia’s uncle. In her mind, there was no room for failure.
“If you’re that confident then I have nothing to worry about I suppose.” I said while pondering my next move.
“Tris, make sure to keep on the lookout tomorrow too.” I said half heartedly.
My thoughts had already moved beyond the conversation and were busily formulating a plan.