Among the ROI, it was common for each person to become a specialist in one or two of the tasks of the tribe. One such person, named Jaccim Nohan, specialized in capturing children. Indeed, he had been one of those who had attacked the Veritas at high feast and had carried off Tu-Swift on the back of his horse. Between slave-gathering raids, he worked with the horses and when all the horses of the ROI had begun to run off, it fell to him and two others to attempt to recapture them. Most of the horses had run far south, but a few, perhaps attempting to reconnect with their foals, had instead galloped about the village adding to the general confusion.
Nohan ran after them to little avail. The noise made by the ROI themselves added to the terror of the horses. As one of them ran by, Nohan noticed that a fair length of frayed rope still trailed behind one of the chestnut mares. He thought to grab the rope and quickly wind it around a strong post. In this way he hoped to stop at least one horse from dangerously galloping to and fro among the villagers and soldiers.
At first, his plan seemed to be working well. He grabbed the rope and the horse turned toward Nohan. The rope slackened and Nohan spotted a sturdy nearby post. He quickly grabbed the rope and began tying it in loops around the post. The horse reared up, spooked, and turned away in a panic. The horse broke the post in two and the loops of rope entangled around Nohan’s forearm. Suddenly, he found himself being dragged through the village. He tried several times to disentangle himself from the rope, all the while cursing himself and the horse.
Nohan’s clothing and then his skin disintegrated from the friction. The horse dragged him near the paddock and into a large pile of fresh manure that Tu-Swift and Day-Nah had constructed only a few days ago. The horse felt the tug and turned back to regard the situation. Nohan managed to free himself of his bonds before losing consciousness. The last thing he recalled was the chestnut mare pawing the air over him.
The ROI soldiers imagined that they were under attack from a large army and immediately sped to the place where their bows and arrows were kept. As each arrived, they looked in disbelief to see that all of their bows were gone! A few went inside the armory to retrieve swords and clubs. Inside they found a few bows in working order as well as some arrows. As hastily as a group of disorganized men who are used to being told what to do in a very organized fashion can, they gathered their weapons and headed to the barn to get atop horses to fight the enemy they thought numerous. But there were no horses to be had!
The head magistrate for the ROI, BRILL-BRA had been sound asleep after a long wine-filled orgy with several young slaves when the chaos began. He shook his head. That, he decided, was a mistake for a massive headache ensued. He threw on a robe and stumbled out into the square and saw the chaos. He wobbled unsteadily over to a large hunk of resonant metal which was suspended near a central dais and struck it hard. A few people nearby heard it and stopped their running uselessly about and came to the circle of benches near the large platform which BRILL-BRA had surmounted. He continued to ring the gong whose sound penetrated through the general din. More and more people began to stop their craziness and remember their discipline. Eventually, almost all the uninjured came to hear their leader’s orders.
BRILL-BRA had no more idea what was happening than anyone else. But he recognized an opportunity to consolidate his power and so he took it. He “called on” various members of the ROI to explain what had happened, shushing anyone who was not “called on.” As the various members of the tribe spoke up, he began to piece together a picture of what had happened. The ROI had made many mistakes. The biggest blunder? Raiding the Veritas in the first place which had yielded only one potential slave. That slave had apparently managed to escape, taking another boy with him. Now, the ROI were short in their agreed upon number of slaves that they owed the Z-Lotz. Well, that was easily solved. He’ll find a scapegoat or two from among the ROI and take their children to make up the shortfall. More of that later, he thought. Apparently, there were no horses available right now, so he realized if they had any hope of recaptured the slave boys, he would have to send out a raiding party soon.
He asked for volunteers and was heartened to see that all the young men of sound body volunteered. Inwardly, he snickered yet again at how easily manipulated they all were. Outwardly though, he arranged his face as appropriate to moods of fear, and hatred, and occasionally belittling the enemy encouraging his own people to think that the Veritas had used witchcraft and magic to multiply the effectiveness of their vastly superior numbers. It would be in no-one’s interest, he rationalized, to let them know what he suspected — that a mere handful had thrown their village into such disarray. That handful would be tracked down and killed before long. Better yet, perhaps a few could be captured alive and tortured to death for the entertainment of his followers.
BRILL-BRA chose a party of a dozen men whom he knew to be fast runners and good archers. The rest would be posted as guards around the village. This move solidified the atmosphere of fear and hate that he wished to prolong as long as possible. His people, he knew, proved much easier to manipulate and lie to when he kept them in a near constant state of anxiety and anger. The attack group soon set off toward the Veritas central place. BRILL-BRA thought it likely the Veritas would choose the most direct path back toward their home. For his part, BRILL-BRA spent a few more minutes rousing his audience to fear and righteous indignation about an enemy who would use dark magic to overcome the obviously superior ROI people. He promised revenge and then, told the people to go and repair the village while he, BRILL-BRA would undertake the most difficult task of all — which was to determine who among them had been derelict in duty. Of course, this also had the desired effect of putting everyone on edge. For they knew that anyone could be so accused and the penalty would be severe, if not fatal.
Except for the dozen in the raiding party, the ROI worked to restore their village and to try to capture the escaped horses. For his part, BRILL-BRA spent a pleasant day interviewing candidates for his wrath. He had learned from NUT-PI, now the leader of the Z-LOTZ, the trick of making the suspects kneel on sharp gravel while he grilled them. Torturing his own people always put a smile on his face. With them kneeling before him, he always felt superior. And after all, he thought, I am superior. After all, they are the ones in pain and I am the one in charge. He smirked as they struggled to try to keep their composure and swear their loyalty to him while he pretended to consider what they said. After a long day of this, he finally feasted heartily and ordered some more slave children to be brought for his pleasure. This too, he enjoyed, not so much for the sex, per se, though that indeed was pleasurable, but more for the joy of knowing he had complete control over someone else’s body.
He woke in the morning to the glorious glow of sunrise, a sunrise unusually vivid and red. He ordered one of his personal guards to bring him the three daughters of L-SIDNEY. They were a bit on the young side, but he fancied them. He decided to blame L-SIDNEY for the fiasco, mainly because he wanted his three daughters. The choice was also easy to rationalize because L-SIDNEY had been one of the three men who had been responsible for training up the two male captives to help with the horses. Since the horses had escaped along with the two kids, it seemed only fitting to make him pay by giving him his daughters. It wasn’t strictly necessary to come up with an explanation like that, but it helped. It gave the ROI people the semblance of a rationale so that they would be more comfortable with what would otherwise merely seem like random cruelty.
BRILL-BRA also planned to take the daughters with him (once he tired of them) to help fill his quota for the Z-LOTZ. L-SIDNEY himself — BRILL-BRA toyed with various torture deaths. Slow burning was nice. Stoning was okay too, provided that people were only allowed small stones. NUT-PI had some wonderful ideas along these lines, many of which BRILL-BRA had never seen in person but was eager to try. As he nibbled on his food and fantasized about torturing L-SIDNEY, he vaguely noticed something odd about this morning’s sunrise. The crimson sky seemed to grow in intensity rather than diminish over time. And, then, there was that odd noise in the distance. It drew nearer. Well, he thought, someone else will take care of that. He laughed as he contemplated trying out the torture of growing bamboo shoots through the body.
His pleasant reverie was shattered by a shouting guard outside his cabin. He vowed to torture the guard as well. He stepped outside to find out who his second victim would be and then saw that the entire sky was red. At the southern edge of the village he could see flames devouring the fir trees. “CRAP!” he shouted. The guard screamed “FIRE!” and did not wait to take his leave. BRILL-BRA screamed more profanity and ran back inside to grab his small bag of precious stones and metals. The roar of the fire grew deafening and he could actually feel the heat. The ROI were running everywhere. They were too panicked to stop. BRILL-BRA ran too.
Meanwhile, Jaccim Nohan awoke in great pain and confusion. He ached everywhere and his ample though shredded flesh ached. He crawled out of the large pile of horse manure and saw that the entire sky glowed red. Though still at some distance, he could feel the heat of the fire. He did not feel strong enough to make his broken body run. Into his mind flashed an image of the fruit cellar that lay beneath one corner of the large lodge used for dining and for storing weapons. It lay only forty yards upwind of the barn. He crawled as fast as he could just as the flames began to emerge from the fir forest. Adrenaline managed to help his broken body traverse the distance and crawl into the landing. From there, he sat on the stairway and used his hands to lower himself, step by step, into the fruit cellar. He did not know whether he could survive but he hoped so. In one corner was a cistern of water used to soften dried fruit and he wet some cloths and pulled them around himself and awaited his fate as the flames roared and cracked outside. Nohan’s pain so overwhelmed him that he felt unsure whether he wished the flames would spare him or consume him.