Dark, mossy growth covered the entire structure except for doors at either end and small portholes ringing the building at even intervals. It was cleaning day, a half dozen sentinels lounging at clearing’s edge while scouring and re-caulking operations were performed on the interior. Once constructed, these huge wooden buildings were seldom touched except to clear enough jungle growth from doors and shooting windows to allow hinges to operate smoothly and defenders to see clearly in case of attack.
As any Jindanian war house, it was set deep in the jungle, great wooden beams carved with such technical precision that no crack, no chink showed in the entire unit. Jinda watched the cleaning operation with satisfaction. By day’s end, every war house in the jungle would be in first class condition. He could begin to think of conquest without concern for the home front.
Actually, there were few tribal members who believed it would be anything but the easiest of tasks to rid themselves of those foolish ones who dared to call themselves Ptolians. Ptolians indeed. How could any mortal being dare the heresy of naming himself after the mighty planet that sustained them, gave them life, and crushed the ignorant by tidal wave, fire, or earthquake?
The lone prisoner in the back compound did not seem much of a threat to warriors such as those Jinda commanded. If he typified Ptolians…Dennos the quavering, he called himself. An apt name for one of an inept race. Dennos Quavered, all right. Information wrung from him was invaluable. Jinda had not wanted to unduly alarm the plains dwellers until he was ready, so he had limited his tribe’s forays to half a dozen lightning raids on border farms. Not once had the victims even shown suspicion of Jinda’s skilled ambushes, though his own people certainly could have sensed the danger and at least drawn bow and steel to fight back.
These farmers had fallen like flies.
He would have liked more prisoners, but there seemed little need. The Quavering One had told him plenty. Conflict waves? Jinda laughed at those. The mental and emotional armor of his followers was tough, not to be seriously dented by any second rate psychic attack. His warriors had smashed Ptolian waves with violence waves of their own, punctuated the matter with barbed arrows, severed the heads from remaining survivors.
Perhaps there was some danger in the long swords of central plains Clansas. Dennos spoke of such with awe. But there could be few remaining from the Ancient Wars the prisoner described. None had been trained in cycles upon cycles. What chance would a mere handful of aging central segment swordfighters stand against the bows of his tribe? Three thousand bows he commanded, including several hundred who could sever a pta-fruit from its stem at fifty paces.
Besides, even those old sword swingers must have gone soft. Could warriors farm tame whotol and remain true warriors? Jinda submitted that they could not. By contrast, his own people drilled constantly. Only the more dangerous jungle beasts were killed, and these in a way that pitted a Jindanian’s life against that of the beast. Many of his tribe bore jungle scars of victory snatched from the jaws of death, whether in competition with a huge serpent, a jagged-jawed cat, or a wily seven legged garox.
The young Godchief stretched, preparing to travel to Evening Circle. One who held the title of Jinda must be present at Worship that his people might see with their own eyes the object of their prayers. He might properly be away during time of war, but no other acceptable reason existed.
He adjusted the war harness about his stocky body, sprang for a low-hanging branch at clearing’s edge, and began his swinging, darting, leaping journey through the forest way. His supple garox skin boots allowed for neither slip nor sound. Wary tree dwellers watched this most dangerous being pass among them. Several predators’ positions were marked for tomorrow’s kill-game: A huge serpent for himself, a slyly vicious garox for his combat-loving heir, Zapor.
Firelight was beginning to dominate as he reached the Circle. Dropping from the last tree, breathing deeply and evenly, he surveyed the scene with quiet pleasure. The center pedestal with its revolving mechanism was a sacred mystery to his people; only Jinda and his heir knew it to be a mechanical contrivance left behind by a colonizing starship, eons and eons ago. The rest of the vessel was scattered throughout the jungle, in pieces from an unplanned crash landing.
Yes, he knew about starships and life on other planets. These secrets, handed down from one leader to the next, kept most Jindanians properly ignorant and reverent.
Fortunately, seeing through the mystery never lessened his enjoyment. He took his seat on the turntable stool, acknowledging his assembled fighting priests, or Ranones. They proceeded with genuine devotion.
Chants, prayers,bows, and blessings all took precisely half a mark, as always. To shorten the time lessened the effectiveness upon his subleaders. To lengthen it would bore them; a half mark was about the extent of an untrained attention span. By the end, it was full night. A tiny, personal replica war hut welcomed him close by. With doors shut and barred, he slipped from harness and stretched out on his under-table sleeping pallet. No intruder would find an easy, unprotected target within; heavy table wood could turn the sharpest arrow, blunt the stoutest sword.
Knowing there would be much to do in days ahead, and that he would need his rest, Jinda was asleep in nothing flat.
Far from steaming jungle, stretched across a portion of Ptolia’s fertile central segment, alfalfa stretched its roots downward to find moisture and food. It was beginning to parch, the landowner absent and his mate unable to do the work of a full couple. Above, triple moons chased one another swiftly, racing toward a triple conjunction with the Ptolian sun, a triple eclipse that occurred only once every eighty-four cycles.
The strange times Garhan the Sure had seen through the Eck-Vidya, the Ancient Science of Prophecy, were almost begun.