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The Great Chiefs' Lodge, Mesa Top
Ni-T'o stood before those gathered around the central fire pit in the cavernous Great Chiefs' Lodge. The various sub-chieftains, elders, and wise-persons from the many so-called 'Pre-Mounds' tribes that made up the recently formed 'Mesa People' were all there. In addition were their rather surprising descendants by a thousand or so odd years, the 'Mound Builders,' represented by the esteemed Raven Priestess and her captains, allies who had become much more. The Raven Priestess had married one of the Mesa's Great Chiefs, Nate, and they intended to stay and build her a temple on the mesa, effectively joining the Mesa People as so many other of the scattered, time-lost tribes had done. In addition to himself and his cousin T'cumu, two of the Mesa's four great chiefs came from those enigmatic peoples of an even farther future, a time in which the City of the Pyramids was long forgotten. Nate and Gonzalo, despite their exotic origins, were very much one of them now, brothers with a bond of love and friendship that remained firm through the most difficult of travails. Ni-T'o smiled; from all this diversity came strength, strength they would need to survive the trials to come. For now, they faced a foe far more deadly than any of the terrible monsters that roamed these lands: Other people.
The survivors of the ill-fated party from the city they had rescued from a deadly attack by 'air demons' were included in their circle, faces drawn and exhausted from their ordeal. Five of their number had been lost, and their pain was deep. Their beloved leader, The Raven Priestess, sat among them, giving them what comfort she could. The great chiefs of the Mesa People would have liked to have given them more time to recover, but the travelers had brought ill news, and they had to learn all they could right away.
As was so often the case, serene, perceptive Ni-T'o had been elected by his brother chiefs to lead the meeting. It was time to begin, so he raised his arms, stretched out wide in greeting.
"Friends from the City of the Pyramids, know that we all grieve with you. We are sorry to call you here now, but we must know all that you can tell us of the attack on Stone Wall Village."
The group nodded in unison, then their elected spokesperson stood, giving a polite bow to all gathered.
"I am Hakáyu' U'ush (White Owl), a senior acolyte of the glorious Raven Priestess. We were coming to the Mesa to aid in the construction of Her temple here. We arrived at Stone Wall Village expecting to rest and acquire guides across the Drained Sea, but instead we found the village under siege! And so, we took our chances and fled, making our own way to you."
"Under siege by who?" Ni-T'o's voice was as calm as ever, but there was a low, ominous tone of outrage underneath it. Whoever these invaders were, they would most certainly pay.
"The men we saw were from several tribes and villages near the city, and once ruled by the city. They have gone renegade, and have taken some of the newly adopted villages from past times with them. The surviving Rattlesnake priests and their followers fled to them when they were banished, and convinced them that the leadership in the city has grown weak, and that now was their chance to rise up and conquer these new lands for themselves!"
"The Rattlesnakes!" Nate said, as if merely uttering the phrase left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. "No surprise there."
The crowd murmured, and all four of the great chiefs looked disgusted at the thought of their most hated foes finding power again. He who would have been their fifth great chief, F'vni, had been gruesomely murdered by the cruel Rattlesnake priests.
The Raven captain motioned for permission to speak, which Ni-T'o gladly granted. The esteemed old soldier rose. He was not wearing his usual warpaint and the scars of many battles were now visible, vivid, pale streaks across his deep bronze face and hands. With a polite bow to the gathering, he began.
"Although we defeated the Rattlesnake priests, and drove them from the city, their fangs sink deep, and have poisoned the hearts of many. They still have followers, particularly among the outlying villages, regrettably the home of no few savage-minded folk who relish the grisly entertainments these evil men provide. Many of these villagers have served as warriors for the city; they are fierce, and should not be underestimated." His warning given, he sat carefully back down. The man was probably stronger and fiercer than any in attendance, but the years were taking their toll.
The Raven Priestess remained silent, as was her way, usually allowing her close confidants to speak for her. She nodded her head in support of her captain's words.
T'cumu now stood, with a nod to Ni-T'o. The four great chiefs being equals, he was free to speak at any time, but still gave his elder cousin the courtesy. Ni-T'o nodded back and sat down, glad to take a rest. T'cumu turned to Hakáayu' U'ush, who still stood, waiting politely for further questions.
"Esteemed elder, Hakáayu' U'ush, please tell us how many men you saw in total. Also, we wish to know of those other types of people you saw among the invaders."
"Overall, I would say there were around four hundred men. As for the strangers, we saw them in the distance from our hiding place, but there were some who stood out. One must apologize to the great chiefs from distant times, but there were those among them who somewhat resembled you. Some had very pale complexions." he said, motioning toward Nate. "But there was one who was much darker, as if his skin had been burnt black by the sun. They all wore clothing of a strange cut. We can't be sure, but we believe they may be from the future people's village of Boomtown, who have recently sent emissaries to our city. Also among them was one who wore garments of metal, and bore weapons like yours, Sir," he said, motioning toward Gonzalo as politely as he could.
The Spaniard stood, his powerful swordsman's hands clenched in shame and rage.
"There would be no mistaking that one. A Spanish conquistador to be sure," Gonzalo growled. "So, one of those villains still draws breath and has not repented as I have done. It seems fitting, an adder finding common cause with the vipers. Perhaps my God will forgive some of the blood I shed when I rode with their legion of the damned, if I send this one to Hell for Him. Truth told, it would be a pleasure."
Nate rose, and reached over to clasp his upset friend on the shoulder in quiet support. Gonzalo still struggled mightily with the ghosts and demons of his past, but managed a wan smile and sank back down to the floor.
"Boomtown was settled by men who were once prisoners of Schullerville," Nate explained to the gathering. "That time was over a hundred years after my own, but I will tell you what I have learned of it. Schullerville was originally a fortified village where they kept men who committed crimes against their own people; thieves, cheats, and murderers. It was a prison, a place of no escape, where they were punished for their crimes by having their freedom taken away. I heard that the worst of these criminals killed each other off in some kind of a big fight after they arrived in this time, but still, these are men who were once kept apart from innocent folk, locked up in a place where they could do no further harm. Those of Schullerville who had been their keepers said that their remaining prisoners had served their time, and so were pardoned and set free, after which many went to found Boomtown. Even so, I wouldn't trust any of them, not one bit. Perhaps most of them truly have reformed, but there's always a few bad apples in the bunch bound to slip back into evil ways. These men will be particularly dangerous. I've met their ilk in my own time. They will be without honor."
Nate's skill in the tribal dialects had greatly improved over the months proceeding, but T'cumu took a moment to clarify a few of the concepts to make sure all in the gathering understood what their great chief had said. A murmur filled the room again, the sound of worry edging into fear for their besieged friends and relatives who had chosen not to follow them to the mesa's greater safety.
T'cumu raised his hands, motioning for calm.
"Please, there is, as yet, no need for such grave concern! Yes, the threat is great, and the enemy cunning, but not as cunning as our own Gonzalo and Nate, who have time and again taught us useful ways from the future, helping us all to survive in this dangerous world!”
Nate and Gonzalo shared a quiet glance with each other, a flush of red coming to their deeply tanned cheeks. They were both modest men who had come to their newfound high positions very much by accident. They could only hope the confidence their brave new friends had in them would continue to be justified.
T'cumu saw that glance, and knew his friends were embarrassed by the praise so often heaped upon them. He would have to discuss that with wise Ni-T'o when he next had a chance. Whether they were sure of it, or not, Nate and Gonzalo were in fact critical to everything they were trying to accomplish here, and he hoped that both men would come to accept, and thrive in their new roles as leaders of a new people. He gave his two brothers from other times and lands an encouraging smile and continued.
“These men, both experienced soldiers, knew that we might one day need to go to war, and heeding their wisdom we have prepared a force that is faster and more deadly than any other people in this time can muster! A cavalry of horses!" The last phrase was in English, but those gathered knew the foreign words well.
The murmur returned at the mention of these strange, new animals that had recently become so prized. Most wholeheartedly supported the cavalry, but there were some who distrusted the outlandish, perhaps even scandalous notion of men riding on the backs of beasts.
Ninak-Mkateewa, the self-proclaimed wise-man of the Mesa People, had been uncharacteristically quiet so far. He now took this inopportune moment to rise to his feet, uninvited of course, to motion for silence and address the gathering. Whether out of respect or curiosity, the people paused to listen. The great chiefs all sighed and rolled their eyes in unison. At times he could be amazingly helpful, but the cantankerous old meddler was always a caution.