Ptolia, Book 1, Second Edition: Chapter 14

Stay-at-homes meet battered Jindanian returnees at jungle edge. Having little doubt of Jinda’s glorious victory, all are gathered to see what the spoils of war will bring. They are stunned at the sight of these first returning warriors. Every two able to travel carry or drag a third less fortunate between them. Defeat hangs about the shoulders of these valiant people, a dark pall of overwhelming proportions. Jindanians have known battle before; they have seen death, disease, injury, and horror of many sorts…but never, never have they faced such massive loss in open combat. For the moment, these are not warriors at all.

These are fugitives.

All night they straggle in, bringing wearied, maimed bodies and tales of dead loved ones. Jinda’s segment of jungle resounds continually with grief-howls, unsettling night and day creatures alike. Yet despite their towering sorrow, there is no chaos. Jungle dwellers fight and die every day; this is an exception only by degree. Few of those still breathing by daylight will pass beyond the veil; Jinda’s folk medicine ability is that good. In all, their nation had gone to war with nearly ten thousand warriors. Fewer than six thousand return, but many of these beaten fighters will be ready for combat again in surprisingly short order.

Another battle is not uppermost in Zapor’s mind. He sits alone, seated on the center stone at Evening Circle, deep in thought. None but a Jinda is allowed here; he has inherited the right with first report of Jinda’s death. More than anything, the people need continuity and reassurance. It will be well for them to see that the new Jinda sits in precious communion with Spirit.

Jinda/Zapor is different from his predecessor. Despite being steeped in every similar initiation of knowledge, there are within him unique qualities: A certain mental detachment from undue emotion, an inner indifference to Evening Circle ritual, and a view of combat as a survival tool rather than an idol to be worshiped.

He is deeply troubled. Why had Jinda (predecessor) not known of his own impending death? That departed from all tradition. Could that mean something was wrong with tradition? Or had Jinda somehow transgressed unknowingly against vital spiritual law by leaving his own tree-bound area? He had led more than four thousand of the tribe’s best to a violent death–not a shameful death, but not a gainful one, either. Why? An underestimated Ptolian force had cut them to bits. How could they have been so wrong?

By dawn, he felt he had grasped the situation. Poor intelligence work was obvious; Jinda had charged out in full arrogance, overconfident and foolish in the extreme. It all boiled down to a single word: Organization. Ptolia was organized. It now seemed unlikely Jinda could strike anywhere on the plains without the enemy being soon aware of it and bringing to bear great force of arms.

A grim prospect, indeed.

Well, it would take some weeks for his people to heal. By then, they would tend to forget the terror experienced in ambush and would be clamoring for revenge. They were great at clamoring. They would want to try again, and Jinda–this new Jinda–saw it was not to be a simple matter. Ptolia was far from weak. It was costly knowledge he did not intend to waste.

New tactics must be devised. Ptolia’s secret of Screening their spies for invisibility must be discovered; it was a weapon too potent to ignore. But how? Certainly not in open-plains forays!

Shortly after dawn, numbers of priestly Ranones began approaching to ask administrative guidance of their godchief. Defenses in case of jungle penetration by Ptolia must be arranged. Shifts of nurses for wounded without relatives must be set up. Food must still be gathered. Taking them in order, the young leader dealt swiftly and decisively with each problem: Assignments here, suggestions there. Glory sat on his shoulders as mottled sunlight reached Evening Circle. He was Jinda. By two marks after dawn, as purple-green sunlight blazed directly into village circles, the last survivors had finally arrived at jungle edge. There would be no more grief-howls. Normal day-sounds became established. A casual wanderer–if such there could ever be in this forbidding tangle–would have seen little to advise of anything unusual. Casualties slept or shifted in restless pain beneath war-hut rooftops, attended by silent females. Other females, plus juveniles, moved stealthily through treeways in search of fruit and meat.

The new Jinda, meanwhile, began to gather advisors and underlings to him. One of the Ranones, Tiota, became his prime counselor, picked because of his integrity. Tiota, told a piece of foolishness, would promptly label it as such–even to a Jinda’s face. Zapor/Jinda realized the value of not allowing himself to become lost in his own mental clouds of self-importance…as his predecessor had unfortunately done.

As military lieutenants, he chose Carong, Melaas, and Jayybo. All proficient with sword, lance, and bow, they became his top commanders for other reasons: Caution and prudence to go with bravery; common sense to balance out tribal pride. These three had brought home their 130-warrior contingents with fewer losses and more damage to the enemy than any others, despite being surrounded and hard pressed from start to finish.

It was nice, Jinda thought, to have such decisions so clearly cut out for him. Three commanders were just the right number, and exactly three such leaders had distinguished themselves for his selection. He sighed and went to lunch. Somehow, despite the many decisions he’d already had to make, it all seemed to be running on automatic.

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