Friends Like These - 2

  • Baron

    Previous Part -

    Tioteche leaned over and whispered to Huini. "Summon the Council. Have them ready, but wait for my signal." The aide nodded, beckoning for a waiting attendant back outside the beaded archway.

    The Bloodchief began his methodical descent down the dozens of steps leading to the center of the amphitheater where the other two Highchiefs sat silently. His soft moccasins didn't make a sound on the tiled steps, only the chirping of the scissortails above broke the quiet. Tio spent the time thinking. Planning. Trying to guess his opponents' actions and outmaneuver them first. The two down below watched him with deepening frowns. How long had they been here? Conversing and Mirthing while he entertained the crowd. This was unusual. Kaiao and Sipowae had never exactly gotten along, only their hatred for Xaliti aligned their interests.

    He reached the stone dais and table after a few stretched moments, taking his seat wordlessly and piling a plate with chile-fried dog that had been served some time ago. He didnt speak, he wouldn't be the one to break the thick tensions between them. Sipowae stood across the circle table, leaning forward on his hands. He wore a curious breastplate, shining like steel beneath cracked cyan paint. Across his chest were strung several scalps, their hair braided into a gruesome necklace. Most were the black hair of the Ganche, but Tio noted a few of red and yellow like those of the Brymoch. On his right sat Kaiao, radiant despite glaring daggers at Tioteche. Her face, vest, and split kilt were painted in sparkling orange paint. Crushed glass from Sogadar? Despite the situation and their fracturing relationship, Tio found himself captivated by her. Something she noticed too, pointedly looking away.

    "This meeting should be over by now, had you been here on time." Sipowae managed to growl. Tio could feel his barely contained rage emanating across the table. Perhaps Huini was right. One should never challenge a Storm, despite how strong they think their house.

    "A whole Season spent campaigning the Ghostwood. Do sit, Sipowae - I'm sure you're quite tired." Said Tioteche. Kaiao winced beside him.

    The pair locked eyes. Glare against glare. Tio absently ate the fried dog, his eyes never leaving Sipowae's. The Warchief started getting more agitated, perhaps dangerously so. It was at that moment that Kaiao spoke. "Enough! Sipowae, sit. Tioteche, act like a Highchief and not like some boy playing at games."

    Sipowae sat reluctantly and Tioteche gave him a miniscule fraction of a nod as Kaiao summoned a few dozen servants. Her aides each had their faces painted sparkling orange to match her. The effect was quite impressive in the midday sun. "Go and summon the Council. Tell them the Highchiefs are ready now." She said, waving the servants into action.

    Perfect thought Tioteche. He waited a few seconds before raising his hand and snapping his fingers twice in quick succession. The uniquely planned acoustics of the amphitheater shot the noise throughout the empty stadium like a crack of thunder. All the servants stopped and turned to watch Tio nonchalantly resumed eating. "The Chiefs are already here." He said evenly to their questioning gazes. At that monent one of his aides, high above at the top of the bowl shaped amphitheater, opened wide the beaded archway and ushered in a long line of the hundred or so Council Chiefs that made up the Moch. Kaiao's servants tittered and whispered amongst themselves as the Rainchief's face grew red. Tio stared blankly at the Chiefs filing into the stadium and taking their places around the dais, unable to meet her gaze. Knowing she'd be seething. Her servants would spread word of this misstep of hers, slight as it was. Even a slight stumble can get you killed in a duel.

    As the Chiefs found their respective seats, aligning themselves based on tribal relations and habitual Tiqwa differences, Tioteche stood. As Bloodchief of the Moch, it was his duty to oversee the internal politics and problems discussed in these weekly meetings. "Lets begin." He announced.

    The Council Meeting went on for some time with all manner of tribal disputes being heard and settled by Tioteche, joined by Sipowae and Kaiao's input when needed. Nothing of particular note occurred until Tepiwah, Chief of the Kiorithich mountain tribe and Councilor of Agriculture stood up. He had the shaved head and filed teeth befitting his people. It was a deep irony that a Man-Eater oversaw the Moch's agriculture. Tio figured it kept him honest. "My Bloodchief. I would speak." Said Tepiwah. Tioteche nodded for him to continue.

    "Chit requisitions for expectant mothers have quadrupled from our last count, my Chief." Said Tepiwah.
    "Do we have the food to fill them?"
    "... We dont know, my Chief." Said Tepiwah. A torrent of whispers spilled through the Council. Tioteche sighed and clapped for silence. "Work by torchlight to till and harvest the terraces."
    Tepiwah clacked his pointed teeth nervously. "We have been, Bloodchief. The Twilamoch raids have left us with vastly reduced Workers for farming. Fields lay ripe and untended..." he trailed off.

    Tioteche rubbed his eyes while leaning back against the table. "Let everyone hear me!" He began. "Tepiwah has free requisition of any Slave Caste for as long as we're lacking adequate Worker Caste." He said, eliciting several hisses and groans from the gathered chiefs. Though none spoke openly against the decree. Tio turned to eye Sipowae. "And speaking of our lack of Workers. Are you ready to give the War Tidings?"

    Sipowae rose from his chair, causing his necklace of scalped skullplates to clink against eachother as he surveyed the crowd until his eyes landed back on Tioteche. He spoke to him, though due to the acoustics of the amphitheater all present within could easily hear him. "Yes. The Twilamoch has been contained in their Mec for several hundred tides now. We surround it by land, but the Brymoch Ships arrive nearly daily with food and other things."
    "Other things?" Asked Tio.
    Sipowae nodded. "My scouts say there are weapons. Like the Bolt-Thrower we made from theirs, but different. Like they took the design we improved from theirs and improved it again." He held his hands up in a shrug. "Time will tell. I expect that soon the Brymoch will grow weary of saving the drowning Twilamoch." A smile cracked across Sipowae's face as he continued. "In the meantime, we've brought nearly ten twenties of Twilamoch captives - all already stripped of Caste. The unruly among them have already been dealt with." He said, shooting a quick glance at Tepiwah. No doubt the majority of the Man-Eater's tribe was of the Warrior Caste. It wasn't hard for Tio to imagine what happened to unruly captives in the Ghostwood.

    Kaiao rose from her seat. "And what of the eastern front? My ambassadors deliver conflicting reports from local chiefs in the Bordermounts." She said. Sipowae let loose a low growl that echoed through the stadium, giving the impression of a great Ganche Lion. "The Bordermounts are a wall of poisoned thorns to us. The tribes there know the land too well, and our own people aren't equipped for it." He threw his arm out wide, clearly frustrated. "And I've heard from trusted Warriors... That there are Quatch among the holdouts."

    A dead silence dropped over the amphitheater immediately. Mention of that most ancient and forgotten people always bubbled fear in a Ganche. "The Quatch were drove out of Oniganche by our first ancestors. This land is ours and they know it. Let them cower in their deep forests or mountains. Pull back the eastern front, I say. Hold what we have?" Asked Tioteche, hesitantly eyeing Sipowae. This was dangerous, Tioteche was no Warchief. Tioteche held his breath until Sipowae merely nodded.

    "Is there anything else?" Tio asked the Highchiefs. Kaiao shook her head and sat back down, but Sipowae brought a hand to his mouth and let loose a burst of whistling trills - Tiquini, the whistle speak of the Ganche.
    Bring him.
    Its time.
    Tio cocked an eyebrow. Who was Sipowae signaling? At that moment a group of Warriors led a Brymoch captive into the amphitheater. The man had the fiery red hair not seen since the foreigners arrived, and was naked except for the lasso tied around his neck, though that didnt stop him from walking with head held high.

    "Why isn't this one being sacrificed with the others?" Asked Tioteche. As if in answer, the red haired man reached the edge of the stone dais and touched two fingers to his neck in the Ganche sign of respect. A few gasps came from the crowd of Chiefs at that, and even Tio was taken aback.
    "Thats why." Said Sipowae simply.

    Tioteche eyed the captive more closely, noting his posture. This man had a back built from the burdens of those beneath him. It reminded him of his father, before the Antou missionaries twisted him. The two locked eyes for a long moment before Tio stepped forward.

    "Who are you?" Said Tio, speaking Antou's language of Dantais. The Captive took a step back, his resolve cracked for a split second before he answered, though his words were drowned out by the cacophony of Chiefs. Nearly all of them leapt to their feet, spitting down at Tioteche or hissing and holding two fingers in an X over their mouths. This was always the reaction to the foul tongue of Antou, especially among the exiled Saskitchemoch tribes. Tio held a hand up, gesturing for them to be silent. He chose to ignore the scowls of Kaiao and Sipowae beside him.

    After the Council was quiet again, the Captive spoke. "I am Alfred Cordell. Scion of the Cordell Family of Bryborough."

    Tioteche opened his mouth to answer, but turned instead. His mouth hung open in shock as he watched Huini launch himself out of an enclosed dugout next to the dais - a tomahawk in one hand, a knife in the other.

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