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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 55

Storm and Lorelei were escorted by Hania, still marveling over his healed leg, into the Abeytu’s winter camp ground, called a machaneh. The Abeytu had been using it every year for as long as the oldest of them could remember.

The machaneh was a park-like setting with well-spaced trees, broad paths and roads worn into the ground by generations of Abeytu. Caves in hillsides had been dug out over the years to provide storage areas for supplies when the tribe was roaming the great prairie during the summer months, then expanded and improved until the great campsite was perfectly suited to their needs. Tents were pitched everywhere, their bright colors catching the sun’s rays. Campfires sent up lazy columns of smoke. Dogs yipped and chased small children who were playing and running around the camp. It was almost idyllic.

The uproar and anger of the warriors surrounding them dispelled the peace and quiet as if it never existed. Storm could barely hear himself think. He’d seen pictures of the Beetles being surrounded by mobs when they appeared in public; he thought he understood how they must have felt. The only difference was, his ready swords, one in each hand as he rode his pegasus, kept the crowd at bay. It also made him an easy target for the hundreds of bows he saw on every side. It seemed as if every Abeytu had a bow and quiver with them. Lorelei, riding beside him, had hers in hand too, an arrow knocked and ready. Both of them were tense and on edge. Storm’s ostentatious display had put a temporary halt to any hostilities, but he knew it wouldn’t last.

Hania led them to a large wooden building, one of the few permanent structures in the machaneh. From Lorelei’s descriptions of the Abeytu and their winter camp sites, he knew it was the lodge where she’d once been interrogated by the elders about her humiliation of Menewa and where the fight had begun that nearly tore her tribe apart. A middle-aged man with a patch over one eye was standing in the door listening to a report from one of the Namida warriors. A group of old warriors from both halves of the tribe, robes pulled tight around them in the manner of the elderly, were listening as well. Storm guessed the one-eyed man was Gaagii, the shaman who’d named Lorelei when she was born.

They drew up in front of the lodge and dismounted.

Menewa hurried to block the door before Lorelei could enter. “This thing was banished on pain of death,” he shouted. “It has no place here!”

Gaagii laid a hand on his shoulder. “Not here, not in front of everyone.”

“But she is –”

“Not here!” Gaagii hissed.

Storm put a protective arm around Lorelei as he escorted her into the lodge. He deliberately bumped Menewa’s shoulder, knocking him back a step. Menewa glared at him and Storm stared back in open challenge, ready to start it right here and now. Gaagii, sensing Storm’s eagerness for a fight, quickly stepped between them. Lorelei yanked on his arm, urging him into the lodge.

“What’s wrong with you?” she whispered fiercely. “Are you trying to start a fight already?”

He stared over his shoulder at Menewa, his Sight showing him the magic on the man’s armbands as well as a strange miasma of darkness around him. “You bet I am! There’s something wrong with that guy and I’m not talking about whatever it was you did to him at the festival. There’s evil around him, pure evil. I can feel it!”

Lorelei was startled by his vehemence. She stared hard at Menewa trying to see whatever it was Storm was seeing but all she saw was the same warrior she’d known all her life. The hate-filled stare wasn’t even new. She’d seen it every time they met after the archery debacle at the festival.

She urged Storm to the center of the lodge where the elders would speak to him. She shook him to get his attention off Menewa. She gestured at the elders gathering around the room. “I can’t speak,” she whispered. “They won’t acknowledge my existence. If they do, they’ll have to kill me.” The elders, along with Menewa and Klah, took their seats.

Storm was familiar with the ways of the Biqah on matters of honor. The Clans were a little less stringent in such matters but had many of the same traditions. He raised his voice. “Crowsotarri was my blood-brother,” he said flatly. “He was not killed by his daughter. Does anyone dispute these things?”

Aside from the crackle of the small council fire, there was silence in the lodge.

Storm nodded at them. “Then someone else killed my blood-brother. Does anyone dispute that?”

Again there was silence.

He set his jaw. “So, who killed my blood-brother?”

This time there was a stir. They looked back and forth at each other.

One elder with a few scraggly hairs of a beard on his chin leaned forward. “Has no one tried to find the killer?” He fixed a beady eye on Menewa. “You met with him that night. Who killed him?”

Menewa’s face was set in iron. “He left the meeting tent alive. That was the last I saw of him.”

“Who found him?” Storm already knew it was Klah but he wanted to see the man’s reaction. Klah visibly flinched then tried to cover it by flicking invisible dust off his pants.

Hania pointed at Klah. “He found Crowsotarri’s body, his back full of arrows.”

Storm turned slowly toward the nervous man. “I’ve been told the arrows found in my blood-brother’s body were notorious for having been used in an archery contest.” He looked around the circle. “Who recovered them?”

Gaagii waved a careless hand. “Klah took them from the target. He was probably going to keep them for . . .” He trailed off suddenly as he realized the implications of his words.

Hania rose, staring a Klah in horror. “It was you? But he was your best friend! Why?”

Klah’s face worked like rubber, then he broke. “Because he told me to,” he half-snarled in defiance, pointing at Menewa.


Before anyone could move to stop him, Menewa hurled a knife across the lodge. It hit Klah in the middle of the chest, burying itself to the hilt with a fatal thunk. Kkah’s eyes bulged out and he gurgled something, then pitched forward on his face.

“I have avenged the murder of Crowsotarri!” Menewa yelled triumphantly. “By right of conquest I claim all that was Klah’s, including leadership of the Minninnewah!” He stared proudly around the lodge. “Our tribe will finally be reunited once more!”

There was an instant of shocked silence and before they could recover, Storm pulled a knife and hurled it to stick in the floor at Menewa’s feet. “I challenge!”

Protests broke out on every side. The elders rose to their feet, yelling and waving.

“You’re not Abeytu!”

“He has no right!”

“He’s the blood-brother to –”

“How can –”

“I accept!” Menewa’s roar overrode the bedlam in the lodge.

The elders turned in surprise.

The one with the scraggly beard shook a bony fist at Menewa. “How can you accept the challenge of an outsider?”

“I am blood-brother to Crowsotarri! You all acknowledged it,” Storm bellowed. “I have the right to challenge!”

The elders paused.

Storm pressed his advantage. “Klah implicated Menewa with his dying breath but Menewa killed him before the truth could be known, then dared to act the avenger. I name him a coward, liar, and murderer! I challenge!”

“I will not have my name dishonored! I accept!” Menewa yelled.

Storm took a quick step forward with clenched fists. “Skill against skill, knife against knife, no magic, no armor, no shields!”

Menewa matched his movements. “Agreed!”

Storm stopped and smiled suddenly as he’d merely been playacting. “Good. Then take off those magical armbands.” He pointed at the leather bands on Menewa’s biceps.

Menewa’s jaw dropped. “What? How dare you –”

“Be silent!” Hania’s voice cut him off. “The challenger has stated his terms and you agreed to them. My power shows me those bands are magic.” He turned his head to the shaman of Adrammelech. “Gaagii. Would you care to dispute it?”

There was a tense moment while Gaagii considered his options. He finally decided dissembling wasn’t worth the risk. “They are magic,” he agreed reluctantly. “By the terms agreed on, they must be removed.”

Menewa’s jaw muscles worked violently then he untied the armbands, removing them with quick jerks, then hurled them to floor.

When he did, Lorelei noticed something odd.

He was still the same height. His weight didn’t change. His skin still shown with health and vigor while muscles moved smoothly under it. Everything about him was the same . . . and yet, somehow, in a way she couldn’t explain, he was smaller. She tried blinking her eyes to clear them but the impression remained. She wondered uneasily what kind of magic the armbands possessed. She gave them a wide berth as she followed Storm out of the lodge. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the elders doing the same, avoiding the armbands as if they were deadly vipers. That told her she hadn’t imagined it, the elders had seen it too.

Hania and Gaagii started shouting about the match as they emerged from the lodge. The tribal members standing outside heard them and began relaying the message around the machaneh. Soon, the whole tribe, Minninnewah and Namida alike, were following them to an open meadow where the fight would take place. The shaman and priest had to shout several times before the crowd quieted down enough for them to be heard.

They introduced Storm as a Ghibbore from Elder Earth who claimed to be the man of might from the prophecy and a blood-brother to Crowsotarri. Before the tribe could process that information, they hurried to reveal Klah had confessed to being the one who murdered Crowsotarri and started to implicate Menewa in the murder when Menewa killed him and claimed to have avenged Crowsotarri’s death. Storm refused to accept Menewa’s claim and challenged him. Menewa had accepted and now they were here to fight to the death.

At that last part, their shocked expressions gave way to sympathy for Storm. Menewa had never been defeated in battle or combat and they saw no reason for that record to change.

Lorelei stared around the crowd. Now she was back among her people, hearing her native tongue once more, taking in the sights and smells of home, all the old feelings came back and she began to tremble in fear for Storm. Except for her unfair use of her gift at the festival, Menewa had never been been beaten at anything. She didn’t know how closely the Lord of Light listened to his worshipers but he had given her a Servant’s Nimbus so she took a chance he might hear her.

‘Please,’ she prayed, ‘don’t let him die. Please, help him.’ She was stunned when a Voice, that was both large and small, loud and soft, answered in her mind.

Before the foundations of the world, I saw this day.

She gasped in shock and fear. Her knees wobbled and she nearly fell. Then she recovered and straightened up as a feeling of peace and tranquility swept over her. Ignoring every tradition and breaching every protocol, she marched into the field where the two men were squaring off against each other. Putting herself between them, she faced the crowd.

She lifted her voice to carry. “I am Lorelei, Child of Heaven, wife to the Man of Might. Before the foundations of the world, the Lord of Light saw this day. Therefore, the end is already written.” She smiled at Storm then walked off the field.

A buzz rose throughout the crowd as she returned to stand by Hania, who was staring at her in awe.

Storm watched her with a sense of wonder. He’d seen the fear on her face, watched her close her eyes and almost fall. But now, suddenly, there was something different about her. She glowed peace and contentment. He could almost feel it in her.

He turned to consider Menewa.

There was fear in his eyes. Lorelei’s unexpected pronouncement had touched something deep inside him, striking terror in his heart. He hid it well. You had to be close to see it, but it was there.

Storm crouched and hefted his knife. “Prepare to die.”

Menewa gave a wordless cry of fury and lunged at him. Storm watched him with almost clinical detachment. The warrior was incredibly fast and strong. Doubtlessly he’d relied on his natural strength and speed to bring him victory in battle many times. But now he faced someone equally fast and strong who was also trained and experienced in modern hand-to-hand combat. During his “old hippie” days on Earth, he’d even used his status as a retired Marine officer to wrangle some training time with the Israeli Special Forces, learning what they called Krav Maga, an especially brutal form of martial arts. To his experienced eye, Menewa was leaving himself wide open a dozen different ways.

He smiled.

To the uninitiated, it was over before it started. There was a blur of motion, the sound of flesh impacting flesh, and a cry of pain. Menewa stared at the knife buried in his chest. He tried to say something, then his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed like an unstrung puppet. The crowd froze in astonished disbelief.

Storm still had his Sight activated. As Menewa died, something full of dark evil magic erupted out of him. It swelled into a vaporous apparition, a doppelganger of Adrammelech, then faded in the wind.

Storm stared in outrage. Menewa had been possessed by Adrammelech?

Lorelei ran over to him. “Was Adrammelech inside Menewa?”

“You saw it?”

She nodded. “I was able to use your power, just for a moment.”

“Then no one else saw it?” He glanced at the tribe, still staring at Menewa’s body.

“I don’t think so.” She shrugged. “I don’t see how they could.” She paused to consider the shamans and priests. “Except for them maybe. They look like they’ve seen a ghost.”

“Fine.” He turned to the crowd and raised his fist in triumph. “I claim victory and all that was his!”

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