“Probably earth and air, Dahlaine,” Tlantar suggested. “There are only four elements, and we’ve got two that haven’t been used yet.”

“Interesting notion,” Dahlaine said. “Anyway, we’ve split up the armies Zelana and Veltan hired. The Maags are coming here, and the Trogites are going east to protect sister Aracia’s Domain.”

“Why not the other way around?” Tlantar asked curiously.

“Maag ships move much faster than the Trogite ships can move, and this part of the Land of Dhrall is much farther away from Veltan’s Domain than Aracia’s is. There’ll be another fleet coming here a bit later, and that’s the one that’s going to bring the soldiers that I hired up here. I think just about everybody here—the Tonthakans, the Atazakans, and you Matans—are going to be very surprised when the Malavi get here. They have animals called horses that carry them to wherever they want to go, and the Malavi ride those animals into wars as well. Horses can run about four times faster than men can, so the Malavi strike fast and then fall back. Then they strike again. They cut their enemies all to pieces, and their enemies can’t even protect themselves, because the Malavi move so fast.”

“I’m glad they’ll be on our side whenever the war comes here, Dahlaine,” Tlantar said fervently. “There’s one thing I’ve been meaning to ask you, though. How did you and your brother and sisters persuade these outlanders to come here and fight our wars for us?”

Dahlaine shrugged. “We offered them gold, Tlantar, and the outlanders will do anything for gold.”

“I’ve seen it a few times,” Tlantar said. “Isn’t it awfully soft to make tools from?”

“The outlanders call it money, Tlantar, and they’ll do anything if you offer them enough of it.”

“These outlanders are very strange, aren’t they?”

“Indeed they are, Tlantar. They think that we’re the strange ones, though.”

Autumn came just a bit later than was usual that year, and Tlantar ordered the tribes to the south of Asmie to continue practicing with their spear-throwers.

Dahlaine had sent word that the outlanders known as the Maags had reached the Tonthakan Nation and that they’d soon be coming overland to Mount Shrak, and Tlantar’s curiosity about these strangers grew with every passing day.

It was on a cloudy day in early autumn that a messenger from one of the northern Matan tribes came down to Mount Shrak, and he seemed to desperately want to speak with Dahlaine.

“He’s over in the Tonthakan Nation right now,” Tlantar told the messenger. “I might be able to get word to him, but he can be just a little hard to find sometimes. What seems to be the problem?”

“It goes quite a ways past ‘seems,’ Chief Two-Hands,” the messenger replied. “There’s been an outbreak of some kind of new disease up north, and it’s like no other disease we’ve ever seen. Our healers are baffled. I think that what bothers them the most is the speed of this particular ailment. A man can be perfectly healthy at breakfast, but he’s dead before lunchtime. Just about everybody up north is afraid to go near anybody else. They’ve started to go on out into the meadows and set up individual camps, and they threaten anybody who comes near their camp. The tribes are coming apart because nobody wants to have anything to do with anybody else.”

“I’ll do what I can to get word of this to Dahlaine,” Tlantar said. Then he squinted at the messenger. “Have you been anywhere near any of the sick people?” he asked.

The messenger shuddered. “I’ve got much better sense than that, Chief Two-Hands,” he said. “Up north, we don’t even talk to each other anymore. We yell instead, because nobody wants to get anywhere closer to anybody else than about a hundred paces. The only good thing about this particular ailment is that anybody who comes down with it doesn’t live long enough to pass it on to others. A solitary life makes a man sort of lonely, but lonely’s better than dead, wouldn’t you say?”

The outlanders and what appeared to be most of the Tonthakan Nation arrived at Mount Shrak a couple days later, and Dahlaine came down to Asmie to speak with Tlantar. “The Maags and Tonthakans are getting along together fairly well,” he said. “I think we should let them get settled in before too many members of your tribe come up to the cave. Sometimes people who don’t know each other don’t get along too well right at first. I’ll need you there, of course, but let’s ease the others of your tribe into contact with the outlanders and Tonthakans rather slowly. Oh, there’s something else, too. Tell your womenfolk to avoid any contact with the Maags. The presence of women seems to bring out the worst in the Maags for some reason.”

“That tends to crop up every so often, Dahlaine,” Tlantar said with a faint smile, taking up his spear and spear-thrower.

“I think you should come back with me to my cave, though. There are several people I want you to meet, and you’ll need to explain the spear-thrower to them. They understand bows quite well, but most of them have never seen a bison up close, so I’m quite sure they won’t understand just exactly why you need such a heavy spear-point when you go to the hunt.”

“I think my cloak might show them why,” Tlantar replied. “When they see how thick and shaggy bison hide is, they’ll probably understand why arrows are too light.”

“Good point, Chief Two-Hands,” Dahlaine agreed. “Shall we go?”

They went around the rocky base of Mount Shrak, and Tlantar was startled by how many outlanders and Tonthakan deer hunters were encamped on the broad plain stretching out from the foot of Dahlaine’s home. The camp seemed to go out for miles.

There were several strangers gathered around the mouth of Dahlaine’s cave. Tlantar recognized the Tonthakans, of course, since they were all wearing their traditional deerskin shirts, but there were several others as well, and their clothes seemed more than a little peculiar. Tlantar was much more impressed by their size, however. These outlanders appeared to Tlantar to be perhaps the biggest people in the world.

“This is Chief Tlantar of the Matakan Nation,” Dahlaine told the strangers. “Some of you may find his weapon of choice just a bit peculiar, but it was designed to kill a very large animal with thick skin and dense fur. When the creatures of the Wasteland attack us, some of them might have very thick skin—or even those protective shells that caused so much trouble down in Veltan’s Domain. I’m quite sure that the Matan spear will solve that problem—particularly if Captain Hook-Beak’s clever smith can make metal spearheads for the Matans.”


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