|Favorite Wonder:||Ride of the Nine Kings|
Those born to the saddle become as one with their mount. In battle, this means the horse will evade incoming attacks, turn a second before you urge it to, and push itself harder than it would for anyone else. On a journey, even an urgent one such as this, it means one can let her mind wander.
She was the daughter of a chieftain of a minor tribe. Her father was constantly warring with the other Hippus tribes: leading his raiders against their herds; drunkenly bragging of his valor by the campfires; scheming ways to gain some petty advantage. She wanted to scream at him, "You foolish old brute! Can't you see that our people are dying? Killing each other over honor, over imagined slights, as day by day the nations encroach on our land, their cities and armies pushing us ever closer and we turn on each other? Wake up! Think of something!" Then one raid, he didn't come back. Nor her brother. And her people turned to her.
A fateful battle, almost costing their tribe it's young new leader, Rhoanna caught up in the tribe's expectations, raiding their neighbors. But they had deserved it this time, had raided her people and stolen their heartiest rams. She learned the hard way that she was not the warrior her father was. She was imposing in her family's armor, but when the time came to strike a blow at her cousins, she hesitated. Her adversary had no such delay. His swing was quick. Her parry awkward. In the dirt, confusion, hooves all about, clamor... She made it out alive to join in the retreat. The lifelong pain in her shoulder was worth the lesson—she could not continue the status quo, or she, and her people, would be trampled.
The third council meeting was pivotal. Half the tribes had joined her band. The weaker half. Tasunke was the key to the rest. The esteem he was held in could sway the strongest tribes if he agreed to join her coalition.
"Well, ye've come all this way, lass, have your say and be gone. The Aroul-Hippi need no one, least of all your rag-tag band." This boast earned a hearty laugh from his companions.
That bravado was key, she told herself. I must make his honor drag him to us. "Rag-tag? Perhaps. Better to join together than be defeated as the Aroul."
"You boast of a battle that never has been, little mare, but if you think you are man enough to take us, bring your riders--"
"I speak not of a defeat at our hands, Tasunke, but one already suffered. Else why do your sheep not graze on the hills of Nimarail? Surely the grass grows as lush there as ever?"
"Our sheep are happier on the hills of the Conneb-Hippi." Tasunke said.
"Oh, surely. It couldn't be because you fear the Amurites. Doubtless their magic blood means nothing to your brave warriors, and you merely let your sheep lead you about like lambs." She got some laughs, even some from the Aroul. "Then what about the valley of Caledor? Have the Boy-King's shepherds unmanned you?"
"Who is a woman to speak of manhood?" he roared. "Do you seek to see us run through by the endless armies of these empires around us? Or have you the courage to fight us yourself?"
"No, Tasunke, I do not want to see the Aroul destroyed! You are the strongest—where goes the Aroul-Hippi, so goes all our people. We must put aside our pride, for the sake of our survival. Nations and empires surround us; we have this choice: cooperate or die. Let the Hippus ride as one!"
"Even so, we have not the strength combined to take on the least of these nations. Do you think you are the only one to realize our fate? Leave us to our games, girl."
"You are right. We do not have the numbers of others. But our courage, our prowess, and our honor are legendary. The Amurites, the Kuriotates, the Elohim, huddled in their cities, what do you think they would give for these virtues? Whatever we ask."
"You wish us to become merchants?"
"Just think of it as another kind of raiding."
With this latest contract, Tasunke leading the forces, didn't know that their prey had offered more than their employer. A sea route would have gotten her from the negotiations to the staging area in timeÂ—if it weren't for that pirate. Falamar had intercepted her ship, sent her captain away, and absconded with her. For taking her on a trip she already paid for, he cost her the profits from the entire venture. He had turned the tables on the Hippus and raided her. So why couldn't she bring herself, her battle trained, horse-borne self to hate him?