The chiefs of the twelve tribes stood in silence as flames danced their way up the twin pyres. Sorvatte had appointed Catan, a young warrior of the Snow Wind tribe, to be acting chief of that tribe until such time as Oracus returned or until the warriors of the tribe could hold trials by combat to select a permanent chief. Other than assuring a strong perimeter guard, Sorvatte had given no orders regarding the war and it was clear from the looks of the assembled chiefs that there was to be another Council. Immediately.
Sorvatte opened his mouth to speak but Lysimachus lifted his arm for Sorvatte to wait. Lysimachus of the Pale Sun tribe was oldest of the chiefs and held in highest esteem by all. Sorvatte waited.
Smoke curled in thin spirals above the growing flames and the dry crackling of individual pieces of wood was soon drown out by the roar of the fire. One had to listen closely to hear the sizzle and popping of the bodies as the flame claimed them. Minutes passed.
“Rangee was a brave and capable leader,” Lysimachus finally said, his soft voice somehow able to be heard over the noise of the fire. “But his time is now done.”
“His cause is not over,” Sorvatte answered. “Kratia remains a great evil. She must be opposed. She must be destroyed.”
“There are many of us who do not agree, Sorvatte,” said Iridell. “The death of Rangee was a sign. An even greater sign is that his supposed Taka Shema is dead. You heard Lollanna tell him, just as I did. Perhaps it was wrong to wait and listen outside his tent, but it is well that we did, for this truth more than any other shows us that we are on the wrong course. We must return home where we belong.”
“Rangee gave his life for this cause! Does that mean nothing to you?” cried Sorvatte.
“Rangee did not give his life in battle, Sorvatte,” said Dourak, Lieutenant of the Moon Shadow tribe. “His wife murdered him. Some lovers quarrel, that! And no honor in it.”
“More importantly, Lollanna was on a mission with the so called Taka Shema,” added Cerandi, Dourak’s chief. “The Taka Shema did not return, Mandus did not return. Only Lollanna returns, and then only to kill Rangee. It is an omen. Billy Takashema was not the Taka Shema, and the Crystal warns us to cease meddling in the affairs of wizards and Esafs.”
There were many nods and murmurs of agreement.
“You pledged to help Rangee,” argued Sorvatte.
“Rangee is dead!” shouted Jadipok. “Dead. We are no longer bound to fight. My tribe is far from home, and anxious to return. There is no hope of victory here, only endless fighting and suffering. I like a challenge but there has to be some chance of winning. Some point to it all.”
“I was never comfortable about the way we started this war,” commented Staggar. “Kratia never attacked me or my tribe. She never trespassed on my land. Yet we come here, far south of the disputed borders, onto her land, and attack her troops without warning.” He shook his head. “It is not our way.”
“We should not have come,” agreed Yutaux. “But Rangee was persuasive. Perhaps he had wisdom that we do not; if so, we lose doubly today, for his wisdom and his fighting skills are now lost forever.” Yutaux stared at each of the chiefs and lieutenants. “Rangee is gone, and our reason for fighting is gone too. The Death Blood leave within the hour.”
“You can’t go!” roared Sorvatte. “The Council will decide what needs to be done!”
Yutaux smiled, his hand resting lightly on his sword. “There is no council,” he coldly. “Just a gathering of chiefs lamenting a lost cause.” Yutaux turned and walked away from the pyres, heading towards the Death Blood encampment.
“We can still win,” said Sorvatte to the other leaders.
“Return to your tribe, Sorvatte,” answered Lysimachus. “It’s over.”
“It’s not over!” argued Sorvatte, taking a step towards Lysimachus.
Suddenly a fist crashed into the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. Sorvatte shook his head and looked up into the face of Hengis. “It is over, Lieutenant. Ready the Fire Horse clan to break camp.”
Sorvatte glared at his chief, but knew then that the battle was truly over for the Rauders. He acknowledged the order and hastened to obey. The remaining chiefs and officers did the same. In an hour only empty tents and two smoldering funeral pyres remained behind.