Razor Mountain — Chapter 19.1

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

The lord’s chamber was freshly hewn from the gray rock. It was new enough that the walls still showed the tool marks, and in places there were cracks and openings left behind by the caves they had widened for the construction. In time, these blemishes would be smoothed away and covered over. It was an astonishing task, the work of years and many hands, cleverly trained and carefully guided. It was a needless expenditure of effort, compared to work that could have been done on the smithy or the farms or a dozen other construction projects that would have more direct effect on their day-to-day lives. Its value lied in its beauty. Nowhere else in the world could such a place exist. It was a monument to the people of the mountain city and the knowledge they took from the gods.

The long room had large doors of heavy timber banded with bronze, marked with symbols of protection and warding. Four ornately carved and painted stone pillars told spiraling stories of the founding of the village and the many achievements of its people. The furnishings in the room were moved in and out depending on the occasion. Long tables could be brought in when it was made into a feasting hall. Ornate wooden thrones could be arranged for God-Speaker and his advisers when it was a court for the visiting emissaries of distant tribes. Today, it was a war room, furnished only with a large round table, strewn with durable parchment maps and scrawled notes on the rougher paper made from local reeds.

“Tutan, the scouts report a war party. Less than fifty people. They will come up along the deep river valley, to the place where it splits. They mean to attack the city.”

 God-Speaker’s name had changed with the language his people spoke, a creole of the varied dialects spoken by those who made the mountain their home. “Tutanarulax Qatqa” was the one who spoke to the mountain, but it had become more comfortable for him to go by Tutan, “one who speaks,” in all but the most formal situations.

“Who are these people?” God-Speaker asked. “What quarrel do they have with us?”

A woman across the table, Aoyura, lifted a piece of paper. “One of my people took meals with the traders who came just after the new moon. They said they had passed a group like this, a group girded for fighting, and the fighters bragged that they were going to take plunder from a great tribe of the mountains. The traders said they spoke little to the fighters, for fear of them and fear of arousing our anger.”

“But they made no mention of an attack to me,” God-Speaker said.

“No, I think they only hoped for good trade and were happy to stay out of it. Strangers offer no kindness to one another in these days.”

A tall, muscular man close to God-Speaker thumped an open hand onto the table. It was Kuoemanuna, who took the name that God-Speaker had given him meaning Strong Shield.

“We were gracious hosts! We gave them good food and warm beds, and a place at the storytelling fire. We gave them good trades, even for the things that are not very useful to us. The least they could do is warn us of this war party.”

“I did not say we were unkind to them,” Aoyura replied. “But the people from far away speak differently, act differently. They do not trust easily and they keep their kindness for their own.”

“Then we should treat them no differently,” Strong Shield said.

God-Speaker put a hand up to halt the line of conversation before it got any more argumentative.

“It has always been our way,” God-Speaker said. “It is what brought many different peoples to the mountain, and why they have stayed.”

“Yes, but are we not our own people now?” Strong Shield asked. “We must protect ourselves.”

God-Speaker loved Strong Shield like a brother, but he was often too eager to solve problems in the most direct and confrontational ways. Aoyura was the opposite. She was known for changing people’s minds, getting what she wanted by making other people think they wanted it too. She had taken charge of a group of talkative women who gathered information within the city and amongst the traders sent out to other tribes.

“Let us focus on the problem at hand,” God-Speaker said. “These people come to take from us. How shall we stop them?

“I think it is best to let them use up their energy and food climbing the mountains. They will have to cross the river at the mouth of the valley to the south. We prepare our defense there. Away from the city, and where the terrain is most favorable. When they arrive, we give them a choice: turn away, or face our sharp spears and swift arrows.”

Strong Shield shook his head. “We have better weapons and better tactics. They have no chance against us. We should meet them further south, where the valley is wide. Show them that even in the open, they cannot defeat us. If they fear us, they will not return.”

God-Speaker nodded. “Our people are strong, that is true. But I do not want to spend our peoples’ blood to simply make a point. If we prepare our strongest defense, that will be enough to show them how outmatched they are.”

“They will learn their lesson best on the point of a spear,” Strong Shield said. “Even if they are shamed and turn away, do you think that will be the end of it? We should at least capture them.”

“For this season, it will be the end of it,” God-Speaker said. “If they dare to return next season, they will find that we are still strong. And I will not keep prisoners on the mountain.”

Strong Shield sighed. “May I speak honestly?”

“Of course,” God-Speaker said. “Speak.”

“We have strength here, but it is wasted. Others hear stories about the city in the mountains, where the people never go hungry and have many amazing things. They grow envious of us. More and more of them will want to test themselves against us, and perhaps take these treasures as war prize back to their own people.

“And yet, the stories they tell of us only guess at what we can do. You know this. This city is a miracle, built on the knowledge of the gods. We should show them that they cannot take what belongs to us. Anyone who comes to us with spear raised should be destroyed. Then, we should send our own warriors to their people. We offer them death, as they would have given us, or the chance to become like us. New villages, just like ours, under the rule of our people. In return, we ask only that they never raise arms against us, and that they send some small fraction of their new bounty back to us.”

He stared into God-Speaker’s eyes, his own black like the water at night, but holding a glint of fire.

God-Speaker shook his head.

“You speak of an empire,” he said. The word was strange in his mouth, a guttural, foreign word that came to him from the voices deep in the mountain. There was no word for it in his people’s language.

“We will have more resources,” Strong Shield said. “Our people will be safe. And others will receive the same miracles we have received.”

God-Speaker held up a hand.

“Everyone who is here chose to be here,” he said. “No miracle comes out of blood. Our people will not be safe. Everyone in these villages, from oldest man to youngest child, will hold their hatred of us in their hearts. Our food and drink will taste sour and rancid in their mouths. They will tell themselves stories of the way we spilled their blood.”

“They deserve it for attacking us,” Strong Shield said, brow contorted in anger.

“Maybe so,” God-Speaker said. “It will not change what is in their hearts.”

“Why won’t you listen to me?” Strong Shield shouted, slamming a fist on the table.

The booming resonance of it filled the chamber, leaving behind a heavy silence. The only sound was God-Speaker’s calm, even breathing.

“Let us speak alone,” God-Speaker said. “Everyone, please go outside.”

The others nodded, walking quickly to the door. None of them had any desire to get involved.

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