‘It doesn’t bother me all that much, Cap’n Torl,’ Rabbit replied. ‘I’ve heard it a thousand times.’
‘Anyway,’ Torl continued, ‘as more and more Trogs heard that story, the priests who were supposed to be in command suddenly found out that they didn’t have any armies any more, because the soldiers who were supposed to protect them had decided that they didn’t want to be soldiers any more, and they were running in this direction just as fast as they could. Then, since there weren’t any soldiers there to guard those slave-pens, the natives kicked down the fences and ran away.’
Keselo suddenly started to laugh.
‘It gets better,’ Torl told him. ‘Just before we got down there, a fair number of black ships hauled into the bay and the slavers came ashore to buy all the natives from the fat priests, but the natives had already left. That’s when we arrived and set fire to all their ships, and that didn’t make them very happy at all - particularly when they realized that the natives were probably sharpening knives and spears and axes and planning to stop by to show them just how unpopular they were - and by then there wasn’t anybody around to protect them. The assorted priests and slavers didn’t have very many options at that point, so they all ran north out of those villages, hoping against hope that if they happened to be lucky enough to catch up with the soldiers, they might even live long enough to see the sun go down.’
‘He tells funnier stories than Red-Beard, doesn’t he?’ Keselo said.
‘As soon as you finish laughing, we’ll get into the ugly part,’ Torl said. ‘Given the number of ships we burned along that coast, I’d say that there are about a half a million crazy Trogs running in our general direction right now. I think we’d better come up with a way to head them off, or we’ll have bug-men coming at us from one direction and Trog-men coming at us from the other.’
He squinted at Longbow’s campfire. ‘I’ll admit that right at first I thought that whoever had come up with that wild story was trying to help us, but now I’m not so sure. Those Trog soldiers went out of their minds when they heard the story, so they aren’t even thinking coherently any more. Doesn’t that mean that they won’t take orders from anybody now?’
‘Probably not,’ Keselo agreed. ‘Any sort of discipline has vanished, I’d imagine.’
Longbow was squinting bleakly at the sunset. ‘I don’t like the smell of this at all,’ he said. ‘I’d say that right now those soldiers are thinking at about the same level as the servants of the Vlagh think. I’m fairly sure that the Vlagh wasn’t at all happy about what happened to all its servants in the ravine above Lattash. The over-mind was probably even less happy since the death of thousands of the servants almost certainly reduced the ability of that group awareness to solve problems. Right now, I’d say that protecting the lives of the remaining servants might be more important than moving into new territory.’
‘That makes sense, I guess,’ Rabbit admitted. ‘Where are you going with this, Longbow?’
‘I’m not quite sure,’ Longbow replied. Then he blinked. ‘Sheep!’ he exclaimed. ‘It was right there in front of me, but I didn’t see it!’
‘You lost me there, I think,’ Rabbit said.
‘I’m sure there was a time when sheep were wild animals - sort of like deer. Then men came along and tamed them.’
‘I still don’t get your point.’
‘People aren’t the only creatures who tame other creatures for their own purposes. Ants tame sow-bugs, and other insects do much the same thing. The Vlagh needed soldiers to do the fighting - and the dying - to protect the overmind. If we kill too many of the servants of the Vlagh, the overmind will fall apart. The Vlagh needed slaves, and it enslaved the church soldiers off to the south with the word “gold.”‘
‘Is that silly thing really that clever?’ Torl demanded incredulously.
‘It’s not really a single thing, Torl. What one sees, they’ve all seen, and after they’ve seen it, the overmind comes up with ways to use what they’ve seen. I hate to admit this, but it seems to be working very well right now.’
‘That’s terrible!’ Torl exclaimed. ‘How can we possibly win in a situation like this?’
‘Don’t rush me,’ Longbow said in an obvious imitation of cousin Sorgan’s rough voice. ‘I’m working on it.’
The Treasured One
The scent of the roast lamb that was currently baking in one of Ara’s brick ovens suggested that it needed perhaps just a touch more garlic to fill out the flavor. Spices had always lain at the core of fine cooking, and Ara’s nose had led her down the proper path for as long as she could remember, and that was much, much longer than anyone around her realized. She carefully sprinkled the roast with grated garlic and then pushed the pot back into the brick oven reserved for the baking of meat.
The continual murmur of the thoughts of those around Ara seemed perhaps a bit quieter this afternoon than was usual. She could hear Omago, of course, but there was nothing particularly unusual about that. She was quite sure that she’d be able to hear Omago’s thoughts from half a world away. There was an almost poetic beauty to her mate’s thinking, and it had been that beauty which had drawn her to him in the first place.
The dream of Dahlaine’s little boy had troubled Ara very much. At the outset, everything in Ashad’s dream had gone exactly as she’d intended, but then Ashad had wandered off on his own. Now they all faced the distinct possibility of a second invasion of Veltan’s Domain coming from somewhere off to the south. The motives of the Vlagh were very clear, but Ara could not for the life of her understand why the outlanders to the south would have any reason whatsoever to invade the Land of Dhrall.
Dahlaine’s original scheme had been adequate, but only barely. It had stepped around the wall that stood before both generations of gods - the wall that forbade the taking of any kind of life - but at that point, Dahlaine had seriously blundered by unleashing the Dreamers with absolutely no control whatsoever over what forces the dreams might turn loose. Ara had shuddered back from a number of ghastly disasters that had been entirely possible. At that point she’d had no choice. Always in the past she’d just been an observer, but Dahlaine’s idiotic decision had forced her to step in and take control. In a very real sense, Dahlaine had provided the Dreamers, but Ara provided the dreams.