“Thank you Aylil.” I smiled at the young fox-kin girl and patted her on the head.
She shyly covered her face and with a weak voice said, “You’re welcome.”
I couldn’t get over how cute her expressions, and the way she acted, were.
“Why don’t you go play with your friends?”
Aylil nodded and ran off without saying anything further. Now that I had finished checking my status, there was a lot that needed to be done. I needed to talk with the old chief to see what our plans would be from now on. I didn’t know much about the Plains of Sorrow, or the Demihumans that called it their home. It was also necessary to grow stronger as well as train the Foxkin too.
I walked over to the old chief and sat down across from him. He was sitting on a cushion around a fire pit which had been dug in the center of the large tent. There were various strange objects and tools around the tent, I wasn’t sure what they were all used for. There were tools for skinning animals and weapons for hunting as well as pots for cooking. The tent had been decorated with animal hides and bones, it was a real nomad’s tent.
“Father-in-law.” I called out to the old chief who was peacefully smoking his pipe.
“Ah! Are you done checking your status then?”
He was always so cheerful, this guy.
“Yeah, I wanted to talk with you about our plans from here on out. We talked about it briefly, but there is still a lot I am unfamiliar with.”
The old chief slowly puffed a few times before answering. His normally cheerful expression had become a little bit more serious.
“My boy, it is time I told you a bit more about our people and the Demihuman tribes. You are now a chief after all!”
He puffed a few more times before continuing, the smoke was beginning to bother me, but I didn’t say anything.
“The truth is, our little tribe here is only a small part of the Foxkin tribe. My father was the Khan of all the Foxkin and I was his eldest son. He wanted me to be Khan, but one of my younger brothers, from my father’s second wife, was not satisfied with that. He challenged me for leadership of the tribe and he won. I was exiled, but not everyone was happy about it. Some decided to come with me, and we left the Plains of Sorrow for the forest in the kingdom.”
I already knew the gist of all this of course, but I listened attentively and asked questions when necessary.
“How large is the Foxkin tribe exactly?”
“Hmm, our tribe was one of the smallest among the Demihumans on the plains. We numbered around three thousand during the brief time I was Khan.”
“That’s less than I thought it would be.”
The old chief just nodded while smoking his pipe.
“Yes, we are few. We do not live like the humans and it is difficult for us to increase our population.” He seemed somewhat sad saying that.
“What about the other tribes?”
“There are many Demihuman tribes on the Plains, but they are not united. There is a hierarchy amongst the tribes, the more powerful tribes get the best hunting grounds, while others are forced to align themselves with the strong. They determine this hierarchy through challenges among their strongest members. Tribes fight each other for dominance every few years. The tribes gather together for a grand council and usually determine the hierarchy in a large competition. The Foxkin tribe has never been the strongest of the Demihuman tribes, they are somewhere in the middle among the hierarchy.”
That made sense, the Foxkin were not the strongest warriors even though their magic was strong. Magic was not as useful in close combat unless you were also skilled in Martial Arts. Reia was one of those rare examples of a person who was skilled in both, and she could use magic effectively even in close combat.
“Which tribe is the strongest then?”
“The last I heard, it was the Tigerkin tribe, under their chief, Rajal Khan.”
“The Tigerkin, eh? What are the other strong tribes?”
I leaned back in the cushion to find a more comfortable position as I continued to listen. Reia also returned at that time, but saw us talking and she didn’t interrupt us. She just sat down next to me and listened along.
“The strongest tribes, those which have held the top of the hierarchy at different times, are the Bearkin, Lionkin, and Wolfkin. There are more than twenty tribes of demi humans of various sizes and strengths. Some of them are very small and usually attach themselves to larger tribes for survival.”
That reminded me of something, Allein and Nes were Demihumans, why weren’t they included in the strongest tribes? I couldn’t see Dragons being inferior to the others, it seemed quite strange.
“Father-in-law, what about the Dragonkin?”
The old chief looked at me, he was clearly thinking of what to say. It seemed as if there was some secret there he couldn’t say, because he was clearly hesitating.
“Ah…. It is better if you ask Allein about it.”
He refused to say anything more on the subject, so I let it rest. Allein and Nes had told me very little about their tribe. There seemed to be some kind of big secret, which of course only made me more curious. I couldn’t force it out of them, though, but I had every intention of asking Allein about it later.
“Well, I won’t ask any more about it.”
He seemed relieved
“Thanks for understanding, it isn’t something I can talk about freely.”
“Please tell me more about the tribes, if you were exiled, is it really safe to go back?”
The question seemed to be a painful one, both Reia and her father had sour looks on their faces. It was Reia who answered me.
“Fayde, when my father lost to his brother, he was forced into exile. We will have to fight for our right to return…..”
It seemed like she wanted to say more, but she didn’t finish her sentence. Her father had no hesitation, though, and continued where she left off.
The old chief thrust his finger at me and said with conviction, “You must become Khan of the Foxkin tribe by defeating my brother!”
I was a little skeptical, it was one thing to be a leader of this small tribe, but now that I knew the entire circumstances, would it really be possible?
“Father-in-law, do you really think….”
“You must become Khan!” He spoke over me and wouldn’t let me finish.
My mind was racing. I looked to Reia and she had a look of determination on her face, you too Reia? As a Human, could I really do this?
“But I’m a human! It’s one thing to lead the Foxkin here, since it was you that put me in charge and all, but how can I lead a large tribe like that? And what about the other Demihumans? What makes you think they will be okay with this?”
That didn’t seem to damper their determination at all, they dismissed my concerns with ease.
“It doesn’t matter! We have to make my uncle pay for what he did to my father!” Reia blurted out.
“Calm down Reia, Fayde has a point, but they will not be able to deny him. You are engaged to my daughter and even if you are a Human, there are the old traditions that they can’t just go against! If you can become Khan of all the Foxkin, that will put you as an equal to the other Khans of all the tribes. They will have to accept you, whether they want to or not! Also…. You will learn soon enough.”
He seemed to have some grand design for me that I had no clue of and what did he mean by that at the end?
“Father-in-law, this seems…..”
What could I say?
“What about Reia? Wouldn’t it be better if she took over the tribe then?”
The old chief only shook his head.
“No, a woman can’t be chief. It must be you.”
This was a heavy burden to bear, but they were placing all their hopes on me and I wanted to live up to their expectations.
“Reia, don’t you have anything to say about this?”
I looked her in the eyes hoping to catch a glimpse of her thoughts.
“Fayde, you must do this. My father only lost to his brother because he was a ….”
“That’s enough Reia!” The old chief interrupted her before she could finish her sentence.
“But Father, he should know!”
Her response was quite unlike the Reia I knew, it sounded much like a child complaining to a parent. It was a cute side of her that I wasn’t used to. We were getting some stares from Reia’s other family members in the tent, but no one approached us. Perhaps this was a touchy subject.
“Fine, but it will be me that defeats uncle!” Reia said with determination, she wasn’t willing to stand down on this one point.
“Reia, you are going to fight him? I thought I had to?”
The old chief seemed surprisingly calm.
“It is allowed. The wife of a potential chief may fight in his stead and since Reia is my daughter and you are marrying into our family, it will most likely have a much greater impact on the Foxkin.”
Reia settled back on her cushion satisfied with her father’s answer. I wasn’t so sure, exactly what did this ‘uncle’ do to the old chief? If he was dangerous, I was concerned about Reia’s welfare.
“Are you sure about this Reia? If anything happened to you….”
“Don’t worry. I have been training for this for a long time!”
“We need to get much stronger, all of us.”
I didn’t want to lose anyone I cared about ever again, like I lost my own child.
“Ho, ho ho, that’s right!!! If you want to unite all the tribes, we will need to be very strong!”
What was that ridiculous thing he just said right now?
Even Reia seemed surprised at that, it was one thing to face off against the Khan of the Foxkin tribe, it was another to face off against all the other tribes too!
“Didn’t I tell you before? Every few years the tribes have a Grand Council and the tribes compete for who will be first among the tribes!”
“Yes, I remember you saying that, but what does that have to do with us?”
The chief gave a wicked smile unexpectedly and started poking me with his pipe.
“Once you become Khan of all the Foxkin, we are going to compete in the Grand Council for the top spot!”
“Chief! Isn’t that too great of a responsibility? You are pushing too much on me. A Human leading all the Demihuman tribes is even more absurd than me becoming a Khan.”
The old chief waved his hand dismissively as if it were a done deal.
“Once you become Khan, they will have to accept you and the one thing all Demihumans respect, is strength! If we win the competitions, there is no way they would deny you! Also, we have a trump card!”
A trump card? Did this have something to do with what he almost mentioned before?
“You can’t mean?”
The chief chuckled and enthusiastically nodded his head.
“That’s right! It shouldn’t be a problem!”
Reia appeared annoyed and glared at her father.
“You’ve been planning this haven’t you father?”
“Hahaha, well let’s just say it is what needs to be done.”
Reia resigned herself after his response.
“I guess it is to be expected, it should work.”
I felt quite left out, what is this?
“Do you two plan to clue me in on this anytime soon?”
The chief stood, walked over to me and patted me on the back.
“You’ll soon find out, it isn’t something for me to say.”
What is with all this secrecy? For some reason, Reia was looking at me strangely, she didn’t seem to be too happy with whatever it was they were talking about, but she seemed to have accepted it. Her look changed to that of resolve, and she gave me a cute nod.
The old chief had a little twinkle in his eye and chuckled.
“I think the two of you should get some rest for now. There is plenty of time until we arrive at our destination.”
I wasn’t about to get anything more from him so I stood and walked off. I didn’t like the fact that secrets were being kept from me, but he did say I would know soon. Just going to have to leave it at that. It wasn’t long before I finally had a chance to sleep.
Waking up the next day was difficult. My body ached and I hadn’t slept well, but I couldn’t remain idle for long. Much preparation would be needed for what lie ahead. It would still be a few months before the Grand Council would convene, so before that happened, we needed to become significantly stronger. We also needed to defeat Reia’s uncle and gain leadership over the Foxkin tribe.
There were other issues to deal with too, like Shar for example. I was beginning to get headaches. Shar was being kept prisoner in one of the Foxkin tents, he had been sleeping for quite a while, but he was now awake. There was no need to bind him, two Foxkin warriors were keeping guard and Shar was no warrior himself.
I walked into the tent where Shar was being kept prisoner and sat down on a cushion across from him. He was in the middle of finishing a meal, so I sat down without saying a word. He was eating quite gracefully despite his situation. I had to admire his bravery even though he wasn’t particularly strong.
“Seeing as how you have not tortured me yet, you must want something from me. If you are looking for a ransom, you are out of luck. There is no one who would pay a ransom for me.” He said that as if he had resigned himself to his fate.
“You can relax, no one will harm you here and we aren’t seeking any ransom.”
Shar eyed me as he finished his food and asked cautiously, “What happened to the Kingdom’s soldiers?”
“They’re all dead.”
Shar eyes opened wide when he heard that, but he collected himself much more quickly than expected.
“If that’s true, that is quite the feat. I was sure the Foxkin would lose against the Kingdom’s forces. They must have you to thank.”
Shar was surprisingly quick witted.
“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you defeat them?” Shar took an inquisitive tone. As a strategist, he was probably genuinely interested.
“Well, a little bit of creativity and the element of surprise.” I answered.
Shar raised his eyebrow at me at my evasive answer.
“I guess it doesn’t matter if I tell you. We built pit traps and surrounded them with a fog. We then tricked them with illusions and they basically walked right into the pits. We also used fire and confusion to rout them. Once the kingdom forces lost their best units, they were easy to defeat. We just hunted them down until there were none left.”
The way I said that must have been a little too calm for Shar, he seemed a little disturbed.
“What fools, to be defeated so easily…” Shar was shaking his head and muttering.
I was wrong, he wasn’t disturbed, he was disappointed in the Kingdom’s army performance. This man Shar is interesting.
“I must say, I am impressed. What do you intend to do with me?” Shar said.
“I heard many good things about you when I was living in Enrain and I felt your talents were being wasted. I need someone like you.”
“Are you asking me to betray my country?” He asked perturbed.
“Your king was willing to throw you away, why stay loyal to a man like that?”
“Even if that is the case, I still have a responsibility to my country. It is not something I can throw away lightly.”
It seemed my assumptions were correct because Shar did not refute them, but he was being stubborn. This much was to be expected, though, he was a loyal man after all.
“Is your responsibility to the king, or is it to the people? The people of La’gun are suffering under the rule of the king and the nobility. Instead of building up the nation, they continue to wage endless wars with no purpose. You should know this better than most.”
I could tell my words were beginning to reach him. He was considering them seriously, but I knew this wouldn’t be enough to convince him.
“What you say is true, but I can’t so easily abandon the debt I owe to the royal family.”
I thought quietly for a moment and then nodded to him.
“I understand, but take some time to seriously consider this. Your king is leading his country down a dangerous path and the people will continue to suffer. When the time comes, I hope you will accept my hand.”
I said nothing more and left Shar to consider my words.
After the old chief had implored me to unite the Demihuman tribes, I began thinking about it seriously. If I were able to unite the Demihumans, what more could I do for them? It wouldn’t change the reality of their situation in this world.
Changing the established order of a society and the hearts of people was not such a simple thing. It wasn’t something that could be done easily or quickly. It would have to start somewhere, there would need to be a place where Demihumans and Humans coexisted peacefully. They would need a stable and prosperous nation to show the world, that not only could Demihumans and Humans coexist, but that they could also be great together.
It was a pipe dream at this point, but if I could get over the first hurdle of uniting the tribes, I didn’t think it was so farfetched. The kingdoms of the North were fractured, constantly fighting each other in petty squabbles. If I could establish a foothold in the North, then maybe I could make that dream a reality. It would be difficult, but with the strength of all the tribes as well as talented people, I could make it a reality. I wasn’t trying to delude myself, it would be difficult and it might fail, but it was something worth fighting for.