tagSci-Fi & FantasyDemon Child Ch. 07

Demon Child Ch. 07


Chapter 8: A visit with a Grasslands Tribe.

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In the bright cool morning air, Neekah gasped and giggled a rueful laugh as she had to fight the stiff muscles of her thighs and buttocks to get them to stretch and move. A passing warrior joked with her, "Your thighs will grow strong, ha'akh. Your legs will embrace your mount with an iron grip. Soon I will mount you." Neekah laughed and eyed him boldly, tossed her head and whinnied, a soft clear imitation of her mare's call to the stallions.

Klektor helped Neekah put her saddle and bridle on Xin'sha. As they led the red mare to the picket rope, she repeatedly tried to pull away and snatch big mouthfuls of grass. Klektor growled with impatience, pulling sharply on the mare's reins. Neekah softly protested, "She is hungry, the life within her demands food."

Klektor looked at her strangely, "This mare is carrying a foal? How do you know that?"

Neekah blanched and shook her head, whispering nervously, "No talk magic. Please, please, no talk magic." Her eyes frantically looked around her hoping that no one heard. Klektor looked at the mare and the suddenly frightened girl, he nodded cautiously. Neekah could sense his curiosity and frustration.

Once again Kwal'kek kept the mare on a lead rope, cautioning Neekah to practice keeping her balance, learning to be one with the mare. This time as they followed the slow wagons he would unexpectedly kick his heavy old stallion into a quick trot and lead the mare along at a faster pace, swinging in a big circle around the wagons. The changes in speed and direction were a challenge to Neekah, and she had to grab the saddle or Xin'sha's mane to keep her balance. Kwal'kek would correct her, "Only a baby holds onto her horse with her hands, use your stirrups, keep your heart over the heart of your mount."

The wagons rolled over a brink of a hill and below Neekah could see the warriors moving around, their horses already loose and grazing. There was a patch of low brush and even a couple of stunted trees growing along the bottom of the little sheltered valley. They had come to the spring that Jhardron had spoken of.

Neekah was kept very busy along with the initiates, filling the barrels from the spring and helping with cooking a hot meal. After eating she filled a bucket with water from the small spring and thoroughly washed herself and her shift. As she squeezed out the extra water from her light dress she looked up and saw Klektor looking at her, his expression thoughtful.

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Klektor watched as the ha'akh bathed herself, his eyes tracing the length of her lithe figure. Her body was still slender, but her arms and legs were rounder and smoother, her small round breasts resting high and proud on her chest. Her strange white skin was a sharp contrast to the rich dark pink of her nipples. The red curls above her venya pulled at his eye. He could feel his jhombar stir, wanting to mate with this ha'akh.

The girl turned and saw him watching and looked at him curiously. Klektor tore his gaze from her. Her mysterious powers intrigued him almost as much as her exotic body. She had some power over the horses. He desperately wanted to ask her about this, but her obvious fear and her invoking his Khan's name in her resistance to his questions kept him in check. But he found himself watching her almost obsessively, his mind a turmoil of frustrated curiosity.

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The sharp whistle of a guard pierced through the camp. High and sharp, it was an alert that a stranger approached the camp. Instantly, noiselessly, all the warriors were in motion. In seconds a dozen were mounted and armed, awaiting their Khan's orders. The rest were armed and on their way to the horse herd.

Jhardron was speaking with a guard, "A small group of the mud people brings their goats to the spring. They have not seen us. Remember, do not kill them unless they raise their hands to you in violence. Do not force them to defend themselves."

He turned to Neekah, "Ha'akh, I will need you to talk to these herding people, their language is not much different from the mud people of the river valley." Kwal'kek pushed her forward and Jhardron put out his hand, "Mount behind me." Neekah reached up and was instantly mounted behind the Khan.

The tall gray stallion jumped and began to side step, tossing his head and looking around at the girl. Neekah could tell that her smell was unfamiliar to the stallion. She struggled to close her mind to the horse, desperately blocking her thoughts from the nervous horse. Jhardron laughed, "He protests at the legs of a woman."

"Let us go greet these herders. Stay behind me, let me approach and speak with them. If they flee, round them up." Jhardron urged his mount into a quick trot. At the brink of the valley the stallion surged into a quick gallop. Neekah could see very little seated behind the taller warrior and she wrapped her arms around his waist, and peered around under his arm.

She could see a herd of goats and ponies scattering in all directions as the horsemen circled them. About a dozen teenage boys, small and dark, stood frozen in terror at the sight of almost over thirty mounted Bak warriors sweeping down onto them. The warriors were curiously silent; the only sound was the pounding of the horse's hooves and the bleats of the fleeing goats.

The boys huddled in a small group together. Jhardron rode close and turned so she could speak to them. "Tell them that we come in peace."

"Don't be afraid. These warriors will not hurt you, they come in peace."

Jhardron called to the warriors, "Herd the beasts toward the spring, and try not to stampede the things."

Jhu'kresh laughed, "Warriors make poor goat herders." But he ordered the warriors to circle around and guide the panicked animals down toward the spring.

Jhardron looked over the boys; they were only carrying slings and herder's staffs. He lowered Neekah to the ground and dismounted. "Tell them that the Bak is not at war with their people. If they are peaceful, no one will get hurt. Tell them that their beasts are being herded to the spring and that they should hurry to guide them home."

Neekah stood tall and addressed the group; she could clearly sense their fear and confusion. "These warriors will not hurt you. They are not at war with you. Your goats and ponies are being herded to the spring, but you should attend to them. These warriors are not herders and will need your help to keep them from straying. Then you should take your herd to your camp. The warriors are camped by the spring and will be tempted to have goat for dinner if they stray too close. Come follow me."

One boy stood tall, clearly distrustful. "How do we know you are not tricking us?"

"If these warriors wished you harm you would have died before you could have taken a second breath. They are Bak Tai Twisted Dagger, the most fearsome warriors in the land."

Still not convinced the boy looked at her, "You are not like them."

"I am like no one else. I am a demon. I am ha'akh Bak Tai Twisted Dagger. You would be wise to obey this man, the Khan, and me his voice." Neekah stood proud and pulled off her blue scarf; her scarlet hair gleamed in the afternoon sun. "Go attend to your goats, and then run home."

The herder boys turned and ran as one to gather their goats.

Jhardron was watching impatiently, "What are you saying?"

"I tell him that we are Twisted Dagger and it is a foolish thing to doubt the word of a demon. I urged them to fetch their goats and run home before the warriors got too hungry and decided they wanted meat for dinner."

Jhardron roared with laughter. "You are proving your worth to the regiment every day. You have done well. You have learned to speak the language of the Bak well in just a short time."

A bright happy smile lit up Neekah's face, and she looked up at Jhardron with measuring eyes. Why had this man, the Khan, never joined the groups of men who came to her in the evenings? She could tell he wanted her. She had felt his eyes on her. She stepped closer and touched his chest, running her hands over the ridges of his scars.

Jhardron caught her hand, looked down at her, and laughed shaking his head. "Ha'akh, it is not my turn to lay with you. I will wait my turn like all the warriors do."

Neekah looked at him. "When will you come to me, my Khan? I can tell you want me. I can feel your blood hot under my hands."

"Last, I will come to you last. It is the Khan's duty to see to the needs of his warriors before his own. You must obey the order as well. It is a strong magic, sharing pleasures. It can weaken a warrior or even cause madness if taken too often. Do not tempt any of the warriors as you have just tempted me."

Neekah nodded, she had sensed the power in the act of mating, even in the brutal rapes of her childhood. And in these sharings with the warriors the magic sang in her blood. "I will obey, my Khan."

"Good, let's follow these little mud people and find their camp. I wish to speak with their leader." He mounted and held out his hand to her to mount behind him.

As they rode, Neekah spoke softly in his ear. "Khan, you say not make magic, not talk to horses. This girl try, but all the time the horses to talk to her, hard to not to talk."

"What do the horses say?"

"Horses not talk with words. They talk with feelings. They tell me if they are afraid, hungry, and happy. Your stallion is impatient. He wants to run. My Xin'sha says she is happy. She has a baby growing inside her."

"What do you say to them?"

"I do not talk to your stallion. You say not to do magic. This ha'akh try hard to obey. I send feeling to Xin'sha that I am happy too. I tell Klektor Demon horse that he must surrender and trust the man on his back. That Klektor will be a good master. I not talk about magic to anyone but you."

"You are good to obey me in that. Continue to keep your magic a secret. If the horses talk to you, it is permitted you speak back to them. You say your mare is with foal? You can tell that?"

"I can feel the life within her. It is very small."

"Well, it will be almost a year before we need to worry about a foal. It will avoid us having to deal with her coming into heat and making the stallions misbehave. The mating magic is strong among horses as well."

Jhardron was walking the gray stallion slowly behind the herd of goats as the boys herded them. About a dozen warriors flanked them. "Ask the boys how much further to their camp."

Neekah called, "How much further to your camp?"

The boy who spoke as the leader looked very unhappy to be leading these warriors to his camp. He looked at the sun, "The sun will be close to the horizon when we arrive."

"He says that it will be almost sunset by the time we get there."

Jhardron frowned in impatience, and muttered, "Are these boys leading us away from their camp or to it I wonder?"

Neekah looked at his back, her voice puzzled. "He is not lying. He is afraid."

Jhardron stiffened. "You can tell this?"

"Can't everyone?"

"No, ha'akh, everyone cannot do that. We will speak of this later." She was very aware of his frustration and curiosity. It was very similar to what she sensed from Klektor. Was this magic too?

Jhardron called Jhu'kresh to him. "Get that herder boy that is talking, have him ride with you. I am tired of this. Leave two warriors to ride with these that herd. We will ride ahead."

Neekah called to the boy, "My Khan grows tired of this slow pace, you will ride with a warrior and show the way. Do not fight and he will not hurt you."

Jhu'kresh rode to the boy and held out his hand. When the boy looked up in terror and did not reach to meet his hand, he growled in impatience and lifted the boy up by the back of his tunic and draped him across his saddle. Jhu'kresh made a disgusted face. "It smells of goats." All the other warriors laughed.

Jhardron kicked the stallion into a canter and soon the warriors were flying over the grass. Every once in a while they would stop and Neekah would have the boy point the direction. It was not long before they were looking down on a large group of odd round tents and smoky fires.

"Pick up the boy. Have him sit in front of you so they can see his face and that he is unharmed." The warriors rode up in a slow walk to give the camp time to prepare. Neekah could see the men arming themselves.

"Ha'akh, talk to them. Tell them we come in peace but if they attack us, they will all die. Tell them that I would speak to their leader about treaties."

Neekah nodded uncertainly. She whispered, "What treaties?"

"Just tell them I want to talk about peace."

Neekah called out. "Put down your weapons, these warriors come in peace. If you fight them, you will die. Let your leader come forth and speak."

A heavily built small man came out, he still held his bow, but he did not have an arrow in his hand. "You have my son. Free him and we will talk."

Neekah spoke to Klektor, "This boy is the son of that man. He asks that you free him."

Jhardron turned to Jhu'kresh, "Set the boy down."

Jhu'kresh laughed, "Gladly, I am tired of the smell of goat." He let the boy slide to the ground and laughed again as the youngster darted to stand behind his father, talking fast into his father's ear.

Jhardron spoke to Neekah, "Tell him that his son was brave. Tell him that the Bak have a promise of peace with the herding people of the plains. We will leave them in peace, but they must give us safe passage."

"Your son was brave. He was calm and helped the other boys stay safe. These warriors have made promises to leave the herding people of the grasslands unharmed. They wish for peace between the Bak and all the herding people. All they ask is that you not attack them."

The leader spoke solemnly, "We will honor the peace. We will not raise our weapons against these warriors." He looked at her curiously. "My boy says that you name yourself a demon."

Neekah nodded proudly and pulled the scarf from her hair, the scarlet hair gleamed in the late afternoon sun. "I am the child of a demon."

"We have many stories of the demons that fled across the northern sea. But my manners are lacking. If there will be peace between us, we should offer you the hospitality of our camp. Come join us." He turned and barked some orders. The little dark women scurried to pull skins out and lay them around the fire. He went and sat, his hands gesturing for them to sit.

Neekah turned to Jhardron. "He invites us to sit and share a meal with him."

Jhardron nodded and dismounted from his tall stallion. He handed the reins to another warrior. "Send back a rider to the spring. Tell them that we will return after dark." Jhu'kresh quickly spoke to the remaining warriors, giving assignments of guarding the horses and deciding who should ride back.

Jhardron moved to the fireside and sat opposite of the leader. He spoke to Neekah, "Sit on my left and serve me my meal." Jhu'kresh sat on his right and the other warriors spread out around the fire.

Jhardron looked up at the man facing him. "I am called Jhardron Khan Bak Tai Twisted Dagger. It is the will of my Aga Khan that there be peace and trade with the people of the northern plains. The Ramaldi of the river valleys resisted this will and are no more."

Neekah quickly spoke the words in the Ramaldi people's language.

The camp leader nodded. "My name is Lachram; the Grass Walker Tribe has chosen me as speaker. It is my wish that the peace between us last long. We would trade, but we are poor herders and have little to offer."

A small group of small women brought trays and large wooden bowls and laid them around the fire. The rich aroma of roasted meat and herbs made Neekah's mouth water. The story her mother had told of bringing food to trick and poison the demon that had fathered her came unbidden to her mind, but she sensed no deceit among the women bringing the food, only curiosity mixed with fear. One of the women took an empty trencher and filled it with some food and offered it to Jhardron. Neekah stood and took the wooden tray of food and thanked her. Surreptitiously she smelled the herbs seasoning the stewed meats and vegetables. She turned and knelt at Jhardron's feet and offered him the food. He nodded in approval and took the food from her.

Lachram looked at her and then at Jhardron. "How is it you have a demon to serve you?"

Neekah spoke softly to Jhardron, "He asks how you have a demon to serve you?"

"Tell him your story. It is a good entertainment for the meal."

Neekah turned to Lachram and spoke. "My story is long and starts here in the grassy plains of your people. Many summers ago a woman of the plains herders, her name was Sa'amdi, was taken captive by a demon. He was tall and had hair like fire and eyes like smoke. He forced himself upon Sa'amdi, forced his seed deep into her womb."

There were several gasps and suddenly the buzz of conversations rose around the fire. An older woman began to talk, "I had a cousin named Sa'amdi, she was given in marriage to another tribe, the Wind Singers. The Wind Singers were all killed by a monster, save the few that escaped and fled to the river valleys long ago."

Lachram waved his hand impatiently, "Let the demon speak." The voices around the fire instantly stilled.

"The demon came upon the village and used his sword to kill all the men in the village. Sa'amdi hated the demon for forcing his seed into her and killing her husband. She fed the demon the poison that made his limbs weak and then all the women of the village fell upon him and took his life slowly over many days."

"Sa'amdi and the women of the village moved south to the Ramaldi River people. She tried to cast out the life that the demon had pushed into her womb, but my spirit was strong and I lived. I was born in the hut of a witch named Kharthmah."

"Sa'amdi left me there. The only legacy she left me was the story of the demon. I lived among the Ramaldi as an outcast until the Bak Tai Twisted Dagger came and took me as ha'akh. Now I exist to serve the Twisted Dagger."

All the people around the fire erupted into excited speech; Neekah reeled back from the wave of excited emotions that seemed to explode around her. She fell against Jhardron, her hands over her ears. He supported her, his eyes on her, suddenly concerned. Lachram stood and shouted, "Silence. I am speaker for the Grass Walkers. Silence." Once more the camp fell quiet, but the camp still vibrated with tension and excitement.

Lachram held his hands up. "You add to a story already known to us. It is a story told around our campfires many times. We did not know that Sa'amdi gave birth to a demon, to you. You are a daughter of the grasslands and by matriarchal right, a member of our tribe."

Jhardron interrupted, "What is happening? Are you sick again?"

Neekah shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. "It is the people; they have strong feelings, too many, too strong. Hard to think, hard to hear. He say he know about the demon that made me. He say Sa'amdi, the woman who gave birth to me, was a woman of this tribe. He say I am member this tribe."

Lachram spoke directly to her. "All of us have seen this demon. What is left of his bones stand still bound by chains facing the north, a warning to other demons that may come to the grasslands."

"Where?" The word was ripped from her lips.

"Many days travel to the west."

Neekah turned to Jhardron, "He say the body of the demon still stands bound to the post. He say it is there many days travel to the west."

Jhardron looked thoughtful, "I had found it hard to believe this story until now. I do not easily believe in demons or magic. Our orders have us travel west and north. If fortune wills it I would look upon this demon."

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