‘This is Omago, Commander,’ Veltan said. ‘I’ve known him since he was a little boy, and the other farmers and the shepherds all seem to bring their problems to him.’
‘He’s quite gifted, Commander,’ Keselo reported. ‘Veltan brought him an iron knife to show him what the word “metal” really means, and he turned right around and invented the spear.’
‘The spear’s been around for centuries, Keselo,’ a very thin Trogite scoffed.
‘Not around here, it hasn’t, Jalkan. The farmers around here don’t even know what the word “war” means, so they’ve never needed weapons of any kind. Omago refers to his spear as a “tool”. That suggests an entirely different sort of mind, wouldn’t you say?’
‘The other farmers were quite impressed when Omago showed them his spear, Commander Narasan,’ Veltan said, ‘and they’d really like to have spears of their own.’
‘What does a farmer need a spear for?’ the thin Trogite Jalkan demanded with a faint sneer.
‘That’s about enough of that, Jalkan,’ Commander Narasan said very firmly.
‘It’s a legitimate question, Commander,’ Veltan said. ‘I’d mentioned that our enemies are part bug, and some accounts of the war in Zelana’s Domain drifted across the border between our two Domains, and Omago heard a few references to “bug-men”. Any time a farmer hears the word “bug”, he starts to feel very belligerent. A swarm of locusts can devour a whole year’s crop in less than a day. After Omago had shown the other farmers his spear, they sort of volunteered to join us in the upcoming war.’
‘If we showed them how to form a phalanx, they could be very useful, couldn’t they, Commander?’ the young soldier Keselo suggested.
‘They might at that,’ Narasan agreed. ‘They’d need shields, though.’
‘What’s a shield?’ Omago asked the commander.
‘It’s a metal plate we strap to our left arms. We use it to protect our bodies from enemy weapons.’
‘Sorgan’s coming, sir,’ Keselo advised.
‘Good.’ Narasan looked at Veltan. ‘Where do you think we should set up our camp?’ he asked.
‘That’s something I wanted to talk over with you, Commander,’ Veltan replied. ‘I don’t want to offend you, but it seems to me that we might want to keep your army - and Sorgan’s as well - on board your ships. Your men are well-disciplined, but Sorgan’s Maags—? Well, I’m sure you get my point.’
‘It’s crystal clear, Veltan. Peacetime brings out the worst in the Maags.’
‘We’ll be moving up to the Falls of Vash before long anyway,’ Veltan continued, ‘so setting up a temporary camp would just be a waste of time and labor. My people have been gathering food for your armies, and I’ll have them bring it here to the beach. In the meantime, I’ll take you and Sorgan and some of the others to my house to have a look at my map. I filched Rabbit’s idea of a lumpy picture, so you’ll be able to get some idea of the terrain near the falls. My big brother’s Dreamer said that we’ll be fighting this war up there, so you’ll need to be familiar with the territory.’
A towering Maag came up from the water’s edge to join them. ‘The country around here looks a lot flatter than it was off to the West, Narasan,’ he said, ‘and there aren’t so many trees.’
‘That doesn’t hurt my feelings too much, Sorgan,’ Narasan replied. ‘Fighting a war in the bushes irritates me. This is Omago. He’s sort of in charge here.’
‘The chief, you mean?’
‘We’re a little less formal here, Sorgan,’ Veltan said. ‘Omago doesn’t give orders to the other farmers. He makes suggestions sometimes, but that’s about as far as it goes.’
‘Veltan thinks that we might want to leave our men on board the ships for now,’ Narasan said. ‘We’ll be marching on up into the mountains in just a few days anyway, so there wouldn’t be much point in having them come ashore and set up a camp.’
‘I’ll go along with you there, Veltan,’ Sorgan agreed.
‘I will want to take you and Narasan - and any others you might want to bring along - up to my house,’ Veltan added. ‘I’ve put together a map that you’d better have a look at. The terrain where we’ll be fighting this time’s much steeper than the ravine above Lattash was.’
Sorgan shrugged. ‘I’ll bring Ox and Ham-Hand,’ he said. ‘When you get right down to it, though, this is Narasan’s war. I just came along for the ride.’
‘That’s not true, and you know it, Sorgan,’ Narasan flared.
‘Maybe not,’ Sorgan replied with a wicked grin, ‘but this time we’re going to do things your way. That means that I get to blame you when things go wrong.’
‘You’re all heart, Sorgan,’ Narasan said sourly.
‘I thought you might have noticed that,’ Sorgan replied, grinning even more broadly.
Omago saw that the two widely different men had apparently developed a strong friendship during the course of the war in the West, and he believed that would probably be very useful when trouble arrived.
‘Just exactly how’s the church organized here in the Land of Dhrall?’ the thin, leather-clad Trogite called Jalkan asked Omago curiously as they were all following the path from the beach through the wheat fields to Veltan’s house.
‘I’m not sure I follow you,’ Omago replied. ‘What exactly do you mean by “church”?’
‘Priests. The ones who lead the people in their prayers and make sure that they aren’t violating the articles of the faith.’ Jalkan seemed very curious about this.
‘We don’t have anything like that here in Veltan’s Domain,’ Omago replied. ‘I’ve heard that there’s something along those lines over in the Domain of his sister Aracia, but Veltan doesn’t seem to think we need anything like that here in the southland. If someone wants to ask Veltan a question, they can just go up to his house and talk with him about it, but they usually go through me for some reason.’
‘Are you saying that you talk directly with your god?’ Jalkan demanded in a shocked voice.
‘That’s why he’s there, isn’t it?’
‘But—’ Jalkan floundered.