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The ice wars of dominia, p.2
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.2

           Hylton Smith
 
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  “There is a very long caravan of these people heading this way. We knew this from scouting parties and captives we took. They tell stories of there being no living space between here and what used to be Mexico.”

  The landowner, Reda seized on this as being useful to discuss with Khaled. “Do you know how many of these Loci are in the caravan?”

  Karim shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know. “I could try to find out, but it would be dangerous.”

  Reda said he would get back to him and in the meantime he could work the land for his keep. Karim gladly accepted and went off with Amir to inspect his place of employment. Even from this short interaction he began to question how he could comply with the directive of observing this nation with precision, yet avoid any kind of intervention. He actually wondered if he had already breached the designated code of conduct.

  Having decided upon the name Ragna, the Traveller assigned to study the Aurorans appeared just behind the frontline with Korellia and therefore Dominia. He had taken note of the steady rate of arrival of new units from the Machu caravan and quickly concluded that this pressure for food and space would determine when skirmish would turn to war. From orbit he had seen precisely what the Aurorans could only hope for – that other Loci weren’t far away. The immediate problem would be the Korellians, especially those contracted by Dominia. His knowledge of how to find the Machu and the Tor-Azen would be valuable, but like Karim, he wrestled with how blending in could clash with intervention. After much deliberation he felt compelled to help. This urge was at least fractionally influenced by the observation of Grenthe’s daughter Meridia, during a rally of the clans to discuss strategy. She was very striking for two principal reasons – she was the only female allowed into the inner sanctum, and she was a fine example of breath-taking Nordic beauty. Ragna couldn’t quite comprehend why he felt quite so strongly about this. Observation from orbit had indicated that all of these nations relied heavily on male decision making, even though the females seemed more prepared to negotiate rather than fight. His vision of her flawless appearance was even more difficult for him to reconcile, except for the Travellers’ natural tendency to generally take pleasure in categorising nature’s perfection. This felt somewhat different.

  While listening to conversations on the periphery of the large meeting area, he picked up several interesting views of what the future may have in store for these people. There were those who were completely fed up with nomadic life and extoled the virtues of going head-to-head with anyone who denied them arable land. Others were certain that Grenthe’s plan was the only way to establish the bedrock of an agrarian society. They conceded that it could be dangerous to seek out allies purely on the assumption that they were in the same predicament. The majority however, felt that the Korellians would have to be dealt with sooner or later, and that should be determined by the Auroran ranks being swelled to the optimum numbers for such a pivotal conflict. The common view was that whichever plan was agreed, the only leader they could envisage was Grenthe. Ragna decided to proclaim he had knowledge of the other Loci, not their philosophy, but their position and numbers. He established a significant audience very quickly, and this registered with one of the senior guards. Thinking it was some kind of wrangle over food he acted swiftly, and encircled the group with fighting men. When he heard the explanation from one of the participants, he quickly arrested Ragna and began interrogating him.

  Ragna’s claims were considered to be pure fantasy and he was thrown into custody. The jailor was sympathetic, as he liked a good story, but was horrified that Ragna was no longer in the detention hut when he returned with a culinary bribe of stewed fruit. He instantly panicked, knowing that his own freedom was in danger of being compromised. Having done his research carefully, Ragna walked up to the guard who had arrested him, and calmly stated that his powers as an escapologist were conferred to him by the same source as his knowledge of the Loci, namely the ancient Nordic icon Odin.

  “You may attempt to imprison me again, but it will not be successful. I have offered information which is of great benefit to Aurorans and when I am eventually proved to be correct, you will be considered as having been the one who could have prevented serious errors of judgement. You cannot change this sequence of events. I advise you to take my information very seriously.”

  The guard thought about this and hurled a spear at Ragna. He couldn’t believe his eyes as the weapon passed through space left by Ragna’s torso, which was no longer there. Ragna was already regretting his own haste in trying to gain counsel with the inner sanctum. He had attracted another crowd and was already perceived as different by these Aurorans. He decided to seek cover and ran at breakneck speed to the shelter of a wooded refuge. The guard also had another problem to contemplate. Not only could the crowd verify the claims of knowledge of the Loci, but they had witnessed the extraordinary powers which tended to support these claims. He conceded to inform the Auroran General, Sondor, of the stranger in their midst. Sondor was irate at being dragged out of the strategic council for such a preposterous report. He summarily instructed the guard to produce this stranger, as he was probably a spy. The guard was at least relieved that he had apparently managed to avoid serious repercussions; he simply had to locate this spy.

  Chapter 2

  The third Traveller had given more thought than the others about his chosen character. The Tor-Azen were fastidiously true to the old ways of the Samurai in terms of honour and philosophy. Choosing to be a member of the servility would help to minimise the attraction to intervene. Kiozo wouldn’t stand out as anything but a loyal sword-maker. The Tor-Azen not only felt they had superior technology to aid the quest for suitable living space, they were extremely confident in their firepower to overcome those who chose not to share their culture. Therefore they were not disposed to proactively seek allies simply to increase the flock. Kiozo had no difficulty finding a sponsor for his attributes in making superb weapons. He had failed to predict that this in itself would bring him to the edge of intervention.

  He was well received by the House of Torramita, one of the founding tribes of the early Tor-Azen, and a primary patron of Sendzai’s order. This honour was restricted to three houses, and was accompanied by pledges to enforce the ‘Hagora’ – the doctrine of the immediate post-cataclysm era. Having failed to blend in, by offering superb craftsmanship, Kiozo was immediately deluged with ideas for new weapons. So many had been unofficially submitted, that the Head of House, General Nakamukin called on Sendzai, to form a cliquot, to assess the relevance of these requests to the central cause of the Tor-Azen. Kiozo had been in attendance, and swiftly realised his error in becoming such a high profile presence. His clumsy attempt to extricate himself from this envied status only compounded his predicament.

  “My expertise is simply in crafting blades from plans of proven design. It is an undeserved honour for me to be involved in the creation of new concepts.”

  This utterance was taken by Nakamukin, and indeed Sendzai to be one of genuine humility. Set against his outstanding skills, this ready observance of his place in terms of hierarchy particularly impressed Sendzai.

  “Your skills in fashioning our weapons of close quarter combat give you the right to show what you may be able to contribute in alternative weaponry. I cannot imagine that you are ever satisfied with what comes from your hands, without considering improvements you have in your head. I therefore authorise Nakamukin to ensure you are enrolled in the cliquot, even if it initially merely helps to avoid costly time being wasted on impractical suggestions.”

  Kiozo offered his profound appreciation and observed the ostentation of the fawning Nakamukin as confirmatory proof of his own naivety. It was a salutary lesson in the difference between orbital and surface perspective.

  *

  Having seemingly drawn the short straw of studying the Korellians, the newly-named Rubina appeared to be content as she gained her first employment in a ‘tavern’ of reasonable repute. T
he passing trade provided a continuous flow of information, especially with respect to possible contracts from Dominia, skirmishes with Loci, and the constant jockeying for position of the various internal clans. Broken agreements and backstabbing were not only the norm, but served as a kind of invisible ranking scale, which ultimately translated to kudos, as perceived by the Dominians. The filthy home-brewed liquids on demand were purchased on the barter system. The tavern owners were the entrepreneurs of this rag-tag nation, and garnered much wealth and influence as a result. Even in these days of bleak prospects, information was power. Rubina was instantly aware of this leverage, and at the same time horrified at the prospect of consensual rape being part of her unspoken duty. It had been assumed that everyone knew of this, except those whose ‘upbringing’ was nurtured in orbit.

  Her tavern landlord, far from expressing understanding of her horror, quickly added, “And you must demonstrate feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction.”

  A change of career was urgent, but the location was ideal. Feminine guile was sought from her contemporaries in the tavern, as she was patently out of her depth in this carnivorous society.

  *

  The Machu had eventually begun to see their numbers increasing. Their journey to Dominia had been the most tortuous of all, and the losses were compounded by the trials of battle. Altocotl had, upon arriving at the gates of the Promised Land, declared a recuperation period. This defensive tactic was temporarily possible because of the Dominian distraction with the other Loci, and their hurried assembly of phalanxes of fodder in the form of Korellians. These were the preparatory phases, soon to be dovetailed with converging strike strategy. Altocotl knew more than anyone that this recovery break was not going to last long, and he constantly estimated the fluctuating rate of arrival of new, exhausted recruits from the western ice bridges. Rotation of his warriors was more critical than for any of the other Loci.

  Ventaninho had considered this very carefully before alighting on to the surface. He prioritised his information gathering to the first probable membrane of conflict – the West Korellians. Finding out how flexible the fragments of these barbarians might be would become crucial, especially the ones who missed out on the lucrative but dangerous contracts from Dominia. Having furnished himself with orbital positioning of the nearest of these scattered bands, he posed as a former Machu cartographer, who had been told his expertise was of no value while they were constantly travelling through unknown ice-covered lands. Now the situation was different, he was in demand. Knowledge of his maps spread like wildfire and he was soon summoned to meet with the exalted one.

  “We understand your family has been involved in charting the lands in this region since you arrived. I would like to see the results of this work, but first acquaint me with what you know about the competitors for the available space. The details of the territory will then be more useful. Proceed.”

  Ventaninho politely acknowledged the demi-god and sketched in some broad demographic numbers, which astonished the gathered sages. His next postulation widened their eyes even further.

  “The Korellians may be the key to survival.”

  *

  Meanwhile, the surveyors of the ice patterns had already computed two possible scenarios, and requested their kin on the surface to join them at prescribed coordinates close to the North Pole. This was acknowledged and agreed. The debriefing began with the prognosis derived from their short but frequent operation of the solar filter. It was estimated that the ice would have taken more than a millennium to recede far enough for ocean levels to return to those of two million years ago. The expected average temperature would be a little lower, but on an upward trend. As the solar filter was no longer present, regardless of the reason, this condition would be reached in less than six hundred years. These preliminary predictions had to be confirmed or refuted by data from the South Pole. However they didn’t anticipate any major departure from the numbers generated so far.

  Considering that these timescales were well beyond the life expectancy of the next few generations of humans, a debate emerged. The surveyors were only concentrating on restoration of all species. The surface polymorphs had already become entangled in the chameleonic nature of the sentient survivors. The surveyors insisted that with the filter removed, the planet would provide the fresh start specified in the directive they were given. Furthermore, they could basically just leave and allow this natural progression to occur. Their job was done and another team could make a confirmatory visit in about five hundred years. The surface Travellers disagreed. They maintained that without their influence, humans would evolve on a new path because so many other species had perished. They felt they should remain until they could assist the re-emergence of some of these missing fauna. They also argued that humans could only concentrate on survival for the foreseeable future, and they should be given credit for having clung on to life so far.

  *

  The esoteric arguments could not be resolved. Either way, a new evolutionary tree was going to develop. It eventually came down to which of the two ways was a closer fit to the achievement of the directive, but even that was disputed. The surface five maintained that if intervention was permitted in acceleration or retardation of the shift in climatic change, then why was there a restriction on nurturing the life which struggled under such intervention. They considered it completely illogical. The surveyors’ position was unchanged; to them the directive was clear and interpretation of it was not permitted.

  After several hours a unique situation occurred. An agreed compromise was hammered out. The Travellers had never experienced the feeling of compromise, and it was unsettling, but the adoption of the plan was swift. The surveyors would depart, taking the filter with them. The consequences of this were ranked in their potential import at HQ. Firstly, the mobile hierarchy was not in 61 Virginis, they had headed to a part of the galaxy well beyond that region. Exact coordinates weren’t available, but it would take many more light years for the surveyors to reach them. Once they had, the receipt of the update would have triggered clear instruction; those remaining on Earth would be expected to allow solar flares to absorb their sentience. This may however not be necessary because the solar filter would have been permanently removed, and they would probably have run out of energy in a few thousand Earth years. The surveyors departed.

  A strangely pleasant wave fluttered through the shapes of the Travellers who remained. The prospect of an inexact but limited life was a new and thrilling addition to that of concern for humans. They actually felt the battlefield had become more even because of their potentially shortened life expectancy. They still expected to survive longer than those they were trying to help, unless they overemployed their human shape. It also occurred to them that they were now in real competition with one another – giving rise to a second wave of euphoria. They felt it as a sharp increase in life-density. Their previous existence was pitiful as measured by such indices. They separated with the agreement that they could call upon one another to meet up at any time, whether that was one-to-one or as a group. Just prior to re-surfacing, they accepted what was for them a further departure from their past - the obvious equation that the longer they spent in shifted-shape, the sooner they would ‘die’. It was decided that it was an individual choice as to how long and how often they employed the on/off switch. The third wave was one of personal freedom, and was the strongest of all.

  Chapter 3

 

  The pseudo-mediaeval strategies were to receive a jolt in terms of communication capability. Although the individual Travellers felt it wouldn’t be helpful to disclose their extra-terrestrial heritage for the present, their ability to feed in accurate troop movements would transform any military campaigns.

  Ventaninho informed Altocotl that he knew of two Korellian tribe leaders who could be helpful in delaying major conflict until arriving reinforcements swelled their own numbers to the desired level.

  “These men are reputed to be
sworn enemies of Dominia, and although they have no love for one another, they are united by a common foe. They would want to know what benefit they could expect in return for agreeing to a temporary alliance.”

  Altocotl sat in silence for some time. His facial expression finally and suddenly changed.

  “We would be ill-advised to enter into transient pacts with barbarians, sooner or later they would concede to their innate ways. However, if they were to remain independent, we could encourage their struggle with Dominia by offering them a very valuable commodity. We have learned that this ‘temperate zone’ has little to offer in the way of agriculture as yet. Every day is a struggle to hunt or scavenge sustenance. We have traversed thousands of miles to get here, and it has all been on the edge of the ice bridge. For over a hundred years, the oceans have shrunk, and the marine life which survived the toxic era, have steadily flourished without the quota fishing of our ancestors. There is an abundance of seafood for the comparatively small number of humans of today. We have very efficient means of harvesting this resource. We can offer these people training and access through our settlements to benefit from the plentiful supply. We will not place a burden of debt upon them for this assistance. This may help them to conclude that it is wise to remain as the buffer between ourselves and the Dominians. Can you arrange an introduction to these two leaders?”

  Ventaninho was at first confused by this offer of an olive branch, but gradually began to appreciate the thinking of Altocotl. It didn’t have to involve joint strategic planning with its attendant risk of spies weaving their cloth.

  “I can try. I will need to take a detachment of fighting men, as they will respect a display of strength. One is a veteran of many years of incursion into Dominia for booty. His name is Berbus, and he has a reputation for being extremely decisive and somewhat obdurate when others challenge him. The other is very young for a leader, and is apparently blessed with a desire to continually improve the effectiveness of their tactical prowess; he is known as Salamand the Wise.”

 
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