Pavis back

Introducing Khan

When they return to camp Graylor and Egil offer to show Khan round the camp, at least the surface areas, the temple will have to wait until Khan is accepted by the Legion.

"Irnar, why don't you look after Urush. We will show Khan the sights. I'm sure Urush would be keener to see the bottom of a tankard than meet with officers of the Legion." Graylor gently dismisses the two men.

First he takes Khan to see Siggyr, who is talking to Yodi. Graylor makes introductions, including the tale of Khan's practice and duel. Siggyr's good eye appraises Khan before he offers Khan his hand: fortunately he is wearing a patch over the other eye and not one of his disconcerting false eyes.

Khan clasps forearms with Siggyr, the Tarshite putting a touch of force and twist into his grip in an almost instinctive attempt to assess the abilities of the pale newcomer. Khan's eyes cooly assess the one eyed man as they stand locked together. The pair release and step back, Khan expressionless, Siggyr grinning as he speaks: "Welcome to the hospitality of the Legion. We have a simple camp, but all our needs are well met. Few round here will mourn the passing of Hengist, he made himself very unpopular a while back. Glad to hear that you observe the correct forms, few round here have sufficient mastery of the basics. They are too keen to develop their flashy blade work." At this Siggyr's eye pierces Graylor and Egil in turn.

Yodi speaks up forestalling any possible scene. Once again the drulz has forsaken his armour in favour of a simple, pale robe, though his sword is still firmly belted at his side. Though barely up to Khan's waist the duck has an aura of power and inner calm. My welcome too. I see your soul is as straight and pure as the sword you wield. A hard core of truth, tempered with honour and honed with discipline. You could flourish here."

Khan slowly bows before Yodi, studying the robed durulz as he does so. He straightens, a slight frown furrowing his brow, and continues to gaze at Yodi intently. Just as it appears the pair may stand there all day, Khan speaks. "Your eyes see much, hundred thane."

Yodi then offers a strange greeting to Graylor. He holds out an empty hand, though shaped as if gripping something. Graylor seems to also hold on to the air. For a few moments there is a subtle tingle of magic and the two bow to each other. Not a word is spoken until the ritual is completed.

"You must take Khan to see Illig as soon as possible. As head of our order he will be most interested in the path Khan follows. He has not yet started his personal rituals, so now will be a good time."

"You are right master Yodi. We'll go now." So saying Graylor takes his leave of the leaders of the seventh cohort and leads Khan to Illig's "command centre" - one of the more intact buildings, and now in the best repair.

On the way, they pass the area occupied by the Second Cohort, and an idea occurs to Egil. "Come with me, I know a lady who should very much like to meet you." He leads the swordsman through to where a woman sits with her sword and spear beside her. He bows to her before he addresses her. "My Lady, Wolf. Here is a man who would be a member of the Legion. I thought you might like to meet him as he has, unknown to himself, rendered you a service. His name is Khan. We were watching him practising in the temple in the new city this morning, and very good it was too, when who should swagger up and call him out but a certain scum-bag called Hengist. The fight, if it can be called that, lasted no more than two seconds before Khan delivered a deadly blow with his practice sword. I cheered inside, those who make themselves our enemies deserve no mercy, but thought I would let you know this as soon as the chance presented itself."

Khan stands silent as he is introduced, gazing first at Seledd herself then taking in the precisely arranged arms beside her. He bows deeply, his eyes locked on Seledd's face.

Seledd nods her head slightly acknowledging the bow. "You were right Egil, this is indeed news I'm happy to hear and to you Khan, I give my thanks. I would have liked the chance to take his head myself but when one is the Wolf petty squabbles and self-gratification are secondary considerations. I would be interested to watch you fight, or at least practise in the morning Khan. I'll look for you on the training ground."

Khan nods gravely, as though the matter bore weighty consideration. "You shall find me there, my lady. Sparring partners with knowledge of the spear are a rarity among the Humakti, so you present an opportunity not to be missed."

She turns away and Egil takes this as a dismissal and starts to leave when Seledd calls after him. "Egil, you will, of course, dine at my table this evening." Egil bows in response "Yes, my Lady." As he leaves he fights hard to supress the grin of pleasure that threatens to overwhelm his face. For a change an officer isn't threatening to lop his head off.

Dori is approaching Seledd just as they leave.
"Ma'am, if I could have a few minutes of your time, there's a matter I could do with some advice on."

" "How to be a hundred-thane", by any chance?" Seledd asks sardonically. "Surely Yodi would be a more proper source of information for you?"

"If that ever comes to anything, I'd certainly welcome advice from any source - I'll need it," Dori says frankly. "No, this is something more immediate. There's an old acquaintance of ours in town - I'm pretty sure one of her agents was behind this latest attack. I have ideas on what to do about it, but I need to know more about high-level Rigsdali magic, and advice on strategy would be welcome, too."

"That old acquaintance? Oh yes, I think I can find time for this." There's a hungry look in Seledd's eyes, making her "Wolf" title seem rather too literal for comfort.

Dori smiles. "Somewhere less prone to eavesdroppers, then?"

As they leave Seledd's camp, Khan questions the grinning Egil. "Wolf is her name, or her title? a champion or war leader?"

"Wolf is her title, it is an honourary name given her for her position in the legion." Egil is as forthcoming as he feels comfortable with, he doesn't feel ready to blindly trust Khan yet so doesn't want to say what Seledd's true position in the legion actually is.

"Her post was so.....organised." Khan follows Egil and Graylor through the camp, a pale ghost of a smile upon his lips.

A few minutes later they are sitting with Illig, refreshments to hand. As always Illig is immaculately dressed, dark beard neatly trimmed. His piercing black eyes briefly lock onto Khan's. Graylor knows the feeling of those eyes, he has never felt worthy enough to meet that gaze for more than a few seconds.

Khan meets Illig's gaze levelly but he has a look of deep contemplation on his face when Illig looks away and begins speaking: "I am told that you combine the worship of Humakt and Valind. It is an interesting combination. One wonders how you discovered their compatibility." Illig's quiet voice takes possession of the space between them. In Graylor's mind it seems that other sounds become quieter as if they too defer to Illig, not daring to block out his presence or obscure the meaning he wishes to impart.

Khan's voice comes low and level into the silence, flat and without emotion.

"I travelled to a cold place to restore a sword to its rightful owner. He was both sword and priest of the father of winters, and in his gratitude he sent me to a place colder still, where I learned many chill truths. There is death in the north wind. There is death in winter and cold in death. The slain are colder than the living. Winter is the death of the sun..."

Khan stops suddenly, as if unwilling to finish the sentence. The silence hangs heavy. Time passes very slowly, or pehaps does not pass at all. All sound has fled, so nothing is left to mark time passing. Even the beat of one's own heart is chillingly absent. Khan locks eyes with Illig once again and something in that dread gaze draws more words from him.

"In the north, and elsewhere, there is much wrong with the service of death. The scions of the sword shackle themselves to the storm, or else cut free from kin and chain themselves instead with unnatural lusts for glory, wealth, power, I know not what. I saw this and sought truth instead. I found Hrujjar, named Lichfoe, shade of a sword and priest of death in winter. He showed me the path of cold death. I found more truth."

Khan's tone has gone beyond flat, and his voice now drops hollowly into the silence. It appears almost that Illig's eyes suck the words from him.

"The wrongness goes beyond the servants of death. The history of the sons of Umath has been rewritten, things are told that cloud the truth. Orlanth stole death and used it poorly, swollen with vainglory. Valind was gifted death and used it well, yet is called braggart and bully and is not welcome in the hearths of the storm tribe. Death is lost, truth is lost. I have found death in the wind."

Khan's face undergoes a transformation as he speaks, he features becoming animated. Now he speaks with passion and his face betrays something uncomfortably close to lust.

"There is a true sword. Death and truth can be found again, beyond the winds. Death in the wind is not enough, I must find truth in the wind. You, followers of Hereward Truewind, you have knowledge of truth in the wind. I have seen it! When we fought amidst the ruins and when the dark warrior tried to assay me in the temple courtyard. I would learn this truth."

Finally he falls silent, pulling his features back into a mask with a visible effort of will.

"The history of the sons of Umath has been rewritten," Illig repeats quietly. "An interesting way of putting it. That Orlanth stole Death and used it unwisely is well-known: that Valind was gifted it, and used it well, is not. From your words, you know the North Wind as the Death Wind and as the Cold Wind, and both of these are aspects of the Truth, just as Hereward's knowledge of the North Wind as the True Wind is just one aspect of the greater Truth. Hear, then, the essentials of how Hereward found that True Wind.

"Hereward was a follower of Arkat Humaktsson, who I am sure is well-known even in the lands of the North. For various reasons, he felt his leader had betrayed his honour, and that both Arkat and his other followers were blind to this. He left Arkat and travelled north, seeking some means of making the Truth clear to them. There are many tales told of the encounters had had on that journey, and the lessons he both taught and learned, but the essential part is that in the far North, he found the North Wind in its aspect as the True Wind. Most tales agree that he was given it to hold by Humakt: but Hereward is a multi-faceted hero, followed by many who are not Humakti, and their tales can differ.

"I see many similarities between Hereward's tale and your own. Whether, if you tried to walk his path, you would find anything new, I do not know, but if you wish to do so, I am willing to set you at the starting point and give what guidance I can."

Khan's pale eyes are almost fevered as he answers. "If one does not seek, one cannot find. I shall try to walk this path. My sword is yours for the duration of your guidance and you have my thanks, Illig Stargazer."

Khan bows low before Illig. "Now, what preparations should I make in order to put first foot upon the journey, unless you wish me to render some service before I begin?"

"Spend some time with the Legion, and listen to all the stories of Hereward that any of his followers tell you, remembering as you do so that everyone has their own path to the Truth, and your own will differ from all of them. In return - or rather, as a further aid to your own understanding - tell us what you know of Valind."

"If after you have learnt enough, you wish to initiate into Hereward's cult yourself, we will choose a suitably auspicious day for it - but even the choosing may have to wait until we know more."

Khan gazes for a moment into Illig's fathomless eyes then gives a single, vehement nod.

"It shall be so. As to Valind, I am no skald, so my recollection of the deeds of another will be lacking, and I have met him only once."

He pauses a moment, collecting his thoughts with an impassive mien.

"He is cold*, hard, unforgiving, but clear and true. He chooses doing right over being seen to do right. He scorns softness and ease of living. He holds death in good faith and brings it impartially. Winter does not kill, it allows those who are ready to die. Valind is Humakt's kin, never severed. This is why snowflakes are shaped as two truth runes and why the slain cool upon dying."

The Lankstaner's pale eyes go distant. "He is a lot shorter than most tales would have it."

*And tonight's nomination for the "Stating the bloody obvious" awards are.....
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