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Chapter 17

When Guo awoke the next day, the answer to her dilemma was clear. As she slept, her mind seemed to have reached a conclusion on its own. A problem, however, remained: How should she carry out her decision?

Here, she was treading on uncertain ground. By choice, she had spent as much of her short life as possible in the company of warriors. She knew little of the customs and traditions which prevailed within the yurts of the mothers and clan leaders, even though she herself was a high-ranked member of the tribe's prevalent clan.

She did not think in these terms, but the essence of her problem was that: she needed a lawyer.

Lawyers, of course, did not exist among the Kiktu. (They had only just begun emerging, as a distinct subset of the priestly caste, in the civilized realms of the south.) The Kiktu were barbarians. They had no written language beyond a crude system of notations which were even more limited than the runes of Earth's ancient barbarians. Like the tribes of northern Europe a millenia past, custom and law was maintained by oral tradition transmitted from one generation of clan leaders to the next.

Had Guo ever read the old Icelandic sagas, she would have found the scene toward the end of The Saga of Burnt Njal quite familiar. The tribe, gathered in full assembly, deliberating on a matter of law. Each old and wise being of the tribe advancing their arguments; only to be refuted when an older and wiser being remembered a different law which everyone else had forgotten.

Law and custom was the province of the old clan leaders. What was she to do? All the clan leaders were dead. There were not even very many old warriors left alive, Guo suspected. Other than Kopporu's personal guard, and the members of her own small clan, the vast majority of the warriors who had filled the ranks of the left flank had been the young and adventuresome warriors of the tribe who had flocked to Kopporu's standard.

The word of Kopporu's own clan members would inevitably be suspect in the tribal assembly which would judge Kopporu's conduct. The word of the old members of Kopporu's personal guard—Aktako and her close friends—would be even more suspect.

The young warriors who made up almost all that was left of the Kiktu would be torn and confused. On the one hand, their esteem for Kopporu's prowess in battle—once again dramatically confirmed—would draw them toward her. On the other hand, they would be horrified at Kopporu's actions.

Confusion and uncertainty would be the inevitable result. Chaos would develop, and grow. Different bands of warriors would advance alternate and conflicting proposals—with all the vigor and hot-headed impetuosity of youth. Who was to guide the deliberations, and maintain order? Kopporu? Impossible—she was the issue at hand. Gortoku? Or one of the other battle leaders? Possibly. But it was unlikely that members of other battle groups would accept the authority of any of the battle leaders. The battle leaders were all young themselves. Tried in battle, to be sure, but not in custom and law.

These were the thoughts that filled Guo's brain, as she made her way that morning along the path. The guide, she noted absently, was still leading them northward.

After a time, she became aware of Woddulakotat's presence. His little mantle, she saw with surprise, was suffused with azure irritation.

"Are you really so ignorant?" demanded the eumale.

"What do you mean?" She was too surprised by the question to be angered by its impudence. (She would learn, very quickly, that the subservient timidity of males was less fact than fiction; and, over time, would grow thankful for it.)

The azure was suddenly—for just a fleeting moment—replaced by green affection.

"Truly, you are a battlemother. Have you spent any time in the yurts of the mothers?"

"Very little. As little as possible, in fact. I was bored."

"You can no longer afford to be bored, Guo. The responsibility for the tribe is now in your arms."

Guo's own mantle flooded azure. "I know that! What do you think I've been thinking about, ever since we started off this morning?"

Woddulakotat made the gesture of reproof.

"Then why aren't you talking to us?" At that moment, Yurra appeared alongside him.

Guo was dumbfounded. "Why would I talk to you?"

Both males were now positively glowing azure—no, more! Bright blue.

"Idiot," said Yurra. "We are your closest advisers. You will have others, of course. But, always, a mother's closest advisers are her husbands."

Guo was too interested in the information to take offense at the truemale's outrageous conduct.


The two males stared at her in silence. Slowly, the blue faded from their mantles.

"As I said, truly a battlemother." Woddulakotat whistled humorously. "Guo, the one group of advisers you can always trust are your husbands. You do not need to take our advice, of course. Males are not always wise."

"Neither are females," interjected Yurra forcefully.

"But whether our advice is wise or not, you need never fear that it contains hidden motives. We are your husbands. Not yet, of course—but we will be."

"Did the Great Mother—"

"Always," replied Woddulakotat.

"Every night," added Yurra. Another whistle. "Well, not every night. Even in her old age, the Great Mother was a lusty—"

"Yurra!" Guo was shocked.

But, despite her prudish innocence, Guo was not really a timid youngster. She had been assured and assertive even before the battle. Now, with the battle behind her, she was rapidly growing in self-confidence. It was strange, to her, this idea that one would discuss important matters with—males. But...

And so, as the day wore on, she began slowly opening her thoughts to her preconsorts. Tentatively, at first; then with increasing frankness.

Not long after she began her discussion with them, Yurra and Woddulakotat brought another of their malebond forward. Iyopa, his name was. Guo discovered that every malebond had at least one member who specialized in learning the tribe's traditions and laws.

"The mother needs her own memory," explained Iyopa. The gesture of suspicion. "You can't always trust a clan leader's memory, no matter how old they are. Especially when the matter involves relations between the clans. It's amazing how every old clan leader suddenly remembers the law differently—always, of course, to the benefit of her own clan."

Iyopa was quite small, even for a male. But handsome, thought Guo. Very handsome, in fact.

Very handsome.

She forced her attention back to the problem at hand. Some part of her mind, throughout the ensuing day, never lost its awareness of Iyopa's good looks (and odd, new sensations began tingling in her body); but, for the most part, she was impressed with the young truemale's knowledge of Kiktu history. A bit vain, perhaps, and Guo thought that he was not really as smart as either Yurra or Woddulakotat. But Iyopa had a truly prodigious memory; and there was no question the truemale had applied himself to his task.

By midafternoon, Guo and her preconsorts had reached the stage of conclusions.

"You have to make sure of your flankers," said Yurra softly. "If they are not steady, all will be lost."

Guo considered, and agreed. Soon thereafter, upon entering a small clearing, she halted and gave the hoot which summoned her flankers. Moments later, the eight warriors stood before her. Their swamp-dweller guide arrived, as well, wondering at the delay. Firmly, but not disrespectfully, Guo asked her to leave for a moment, that she might discuss private matters with her flankers. The guide hesitated briefly; then moved out of hearing range.

Guo examined the flankers. All of them had survived the battle, relatively unharmed. A surprising fact in itself. The position of battlemother's flanker was prestigious among the Kiktu—not least, because it was so dangerous. Unlike the mobile warriors, the flankers were fixed to their slow battlemother, and without the battlemother's bulk to protect them.

Flankers carried flails, but they did not normally use them in combat. A flanker's weapon was the greatfork. The greatfork was a two-tentacle weapon, a combination of a huge two-fork and axe. (A human specialist examining the weapon would have immediately recognized it, generically, as a halberd. In detail, of course, the weapon was different: two fork-prongs on one side, where a halberd has a single beak; and the axe-blade on the opposite was longer and shallower than the blade of a halberd. But the principle was the same.)

The greatfork was an ungainly weapon in combat, quite unlike the graceful flail-and-fork combination of the normal warrior. But grace was not its function. In battle, the task of the flankers was crude and simple: either by grasping with the fork, or by driving with the blade, to hold the enemy in position while the slow but irresistible power of a battlemother's mace was brought to bear.

Battlemothers always fought in the thick of the battle. The casualties around them were usually high—for flanker and foe alike.

Guo hesitated, ochre uncertainty rippling across her mantle. Once she spoke to her flankers, she was committed. But after a moment, the ochre faded. Her mantle was now gray, with a faint hint of black.

"Tomorrow—or soon, anyway—there will be a tribal assembly. Kopporu will have to answer for her actions."

The flankers said nothing. It was obvious from their stance and color, however, that they were not surprised by her statement. They, too, had drawn their own conclusions from observing the retreat into the swamp.

"At the assembly, I will enforce the traditions of the Kiktu. It is both my right and my duty—as the Great Mother of the tribe."

Yurra handed her the bundle, which the males had kept in safekeeping. Guo carefully unwrapped the bundle, and exposed the ceremonial shell within. The flankers gazed upon it. Their arms made the gesture of reverence. But Guo noted that there was no trace of orange surprise in their mantles.

They saw—and know. Good.

"Things will be—confused—at the assembly. We have lost all our clan leaders. I must—it will be necessary that I—"

Suddenly, one of her flankers raised her greatfork above her cowl, held crossways like a horizontal bar. It was the traditional salute of the flanker to her battlemother. Traditional, but hardly ever seen. The Kiktu were not, in truth, given to frequent displays of ceremony.

A moment later, the other seven flankers followed suit.

"We are yours to command, Great Mother," spoke the flanker who had first raised her fork. Her name was Kolkata, and she was the leader of the squad of flankers. A moment later, the others echoed her words.

The black tinge in Guo's mantle darkened.

"I may be forced to harshness."

This time, the words came as one, loudly:

"We are yours to command, Great Mother."

Guo stared at them. She was—surprised. She had thought it would be more difficult. (For all her unusual capacity for combat, Guo was not really a warrior, and did not fully understand the minds of warriors. On the day after the Battle of Lolopopo, Guo's flankers would have stood with her against the Kraken itself.)

The black in her mantle faded. For a moment, a green wave rippled across. Then Guo turned, and resumed the march.

Hours later, they entered a huge clearing in the swamp. Many other warriors were already in the clearing. Still more were trickling in from several directions—all in small groups, led by a swamp-dweller guide.

The word was passed along by couriers:

We rest here tonight. Tomorrow the tribe assembles.

Before they slept, Guo and her preconsorts dug a little grave, into which they lowered the body of Abka. It was strange, then, the anguish which she felt, for the loss of a husband she had never known.

Yet she grieved, and deeply; and found, in the pain, a well of courage and resolve.


The assembly began early in the day, and raggedly. There were no clan leaders to begin the deliberations with the customary religious rituals. Those rituals were brief and, in truth, not much more than perfunctory. But they had always served, in the past, to allow the assembly to come to order in a set and certain manner.

Guo saw that Kopporu was going to make no attempt to substitute herself as the leader of the rituals. The infanta thought Kopporu's decision was wise. Better to begin the assembly by bluntly demonstrating the truth to all.

Kopporu herself was standing toward the center of the clearing, on its northern side. She was weaponless, and her personal guard were not nearby. Guo was relieved. She had been concerned that Kopporu might attempt to intimidate the tribe. Such an attempt would not have worked; it would simply have inflamed the hotheads. Instead, by taking her stance, Kopporu was making clear to one and all that she accepted the authority of the tribe.

Still, Guo noted that Kopporu had subtly weighted the situation. Her personal guard was not standing nearby, true. But they were not all that far away, either.

Guo examined them. As hard-bitten a collection of old warriors as you could find anywhere on the Meat of the Clam. The scars crisscrossing their collective mantles were literally beyond counting. There could be no doubt in any gukuy's mind that Aktako and her group would deal ruthlessly with anyone who tried to take matters into their own palps. Not even the rashest young warrior would casually match flails with them.

But there was more. Guo saw that the Opoktu warriors were gathered not far from the center of the clearing, on the same side as Kopporu. The Opoktu were still outnumbered by the surviving Kiktu, by a factor of four to one. But the Opoktu had saved their entire tribe, except for those warriors who had fallen in combat. Their own two mothers, and four clan leaders, were standing prominently to the fore. In every nuance of the Opoktu stance, a subtle but clear set of messages was being conveyed to all who observed:

We are still a tribe with leaders, united.

We are so, because we chose the course of flight.

We stand with Kopporu.

Then, there were the swamp-dwellers. There were many eights of them, gathered together some little distance from Kopporu. Again, not near the battle leader. But near enough to come to Kopporu's aid, if necessary. And while the swamp-dwellers were not warriors, the still-healing scars on their own mantles demonstrated that they lacked neither courage nor willingness to fight. They were clanless outcasts, but their status had inevitably risen in the eyes of the Kiktu over the past days. Whatever their prejudices, the Kiktu were warriors—for whom courage counted much.

And, there was this: Any Kiktu had but to look about them, to see that they were in the middle of the Lolopopo Swamp. Lost, without their guides. And the guides were making clear, without effrontery, that they too would stand with Kopporu.

There was a last group, whom Guo had not expected. They would not be a direct factor in the assembly, but their presence was not insignificant. Scattered around the clearing, in small huddled groups, were refugees from every tribe which had fought the Utuku on the plain. The refugees had been found scattered through the swamp, and brought along with the retreat. Many were Kiktu; but the majority, thought Guo, were members of the five other tribes (besides the Opoktu) which had joined in alliance with the Kiktu. Whose clan leaders had also led them to disaster.

All of them were warriors, except for a single young Datga mother and her consorts. Most of them bore recent battle wounds. Each of them was silent, their pinkish-brown mantles giving testimony to their own fears and feelings of guilt. Each of them had chosen, as individuals, to take the same course that Kopporu had chosen for the left flank as a whole—salvation in the swamp. They, too, bore the burden of treason. Hence they would not speak at the assembly—even those of them who were Kiktu and had the right to speak. Their own conduct would be examined, and judgement passed.

Yet—their very presence was perhaps the strongest, if most indirect, reinforcement for Kopporu's position. For Kopporu alone was not on trial here. So were the ghosts of the clan leaders who had been responsible for the greatest single calamity in the history of the Kiktu and their allied tribes. The miserable, huddled shapes of the refugees was silent testimony to the ghastly scope of that disaster.

The assembly was slow in coming to order. Kopporu stood alone, making no attempt to impose her authority. She had apparently decided that it was best to allow the tribespeople to mill about for a time, pondering the situation.

Guo thought Kopporu's tactic was wise. And it gave her time to settle an important question. She looked for, and quickly found, the other two surviving Kiktu battlemothers. Loapo and Oroku were standing together nearby, with those few of Loapa's flankers who had survived. (Oroku's flankers, Guo would later learn, had all died in their frenzied efforts to save their badly wounded battlemother.)

Guo lumbered toward them. She was glad to see that Oroku was present. She had feared that the lamed infanta would not have been able to keep up with the tribe in its flight.

She was also relieved to see that Oroku's wounds were healing well enough, under the circumstances. There seemed to be no sign of the parasitic infections which so often accompanied bad wounds, especially eye-wounds.

The reason for the lack of infection was obvious, once Guo came near. The wounds—the entire left eye, in fact—had been savagely cauterized by fire. Guo was deeply impressed with Oroku's courage. The pain of that cauterization must have been incredible. But the treatment had killed any parasites—even though the infanta would be horribly disfigured for the rest of her life.

"You are well?" asked Guo.

Loapo made the gesture of affirmation. Oroku whistled amusement.

"As well as could be expected, under the circumstances."

"I had feared you would not manage the march through the swamp."

"I would not have," replied Oroku, "except for Loapo. And the warriors whom Kopporu sent to help me."

Mention of Kopporu brought back the necessities of the moment. Yurra, as prearranged, handed Guo the bundle containing the Mothershell. Guo showed it to the other two infanta, and recounted the attendant's words.

When she finished, she was relieved to see no trace of blue in their mantles. She had been especially concerned about Oroku's reaction. Loapa belonged to a relatively unimportant clan. There would have been no possibility of her becoming Great Mother, in any event. But Oroku, like Guo, was a member of the prevalent clan. Furthermore, she was older than Guo. Insofar as these things could be determined in the rather complex manner by which the Kiktu mothers chose the Great Mother of the tribe, Oroku had been a more likely candidate than Guo. She had feared that Oroku might take offense at Guo's peremptory claim to the title.

Her fears proved groundless. Oroku simply examined the bundle and, within moments, made the gesture of consent. Loapo immediately followed suit.

"The Great Mother chose wisely," whispered Oroku. "I can think of no better person to become our Great Mother in this darkest of all nights." A faint, humorous whistle. "A kuopto Great Mother! I almost wish the clan leaders were still alive, so I could watch them tremble in fear. May they rot in the Meat for eternity."

A brown ripple washed across Oroku's mantle. "And besides, Guo, I will be spawnless. There are no males left to the tribe, except yours. Even if there were, what malebond would mate with a mother who looked like me?" She gestured at her horribly scarred face.

Long after, looking back, Guo would decide that her love for her husbands was born at that moment.

Yurra did not hesitate.

"I would be honored to serve you, Oroku." There was not a trace of ochre in his mantle—nothing but an exquisite tracery of every shade of green (with just a hint of white beneath). The little truemale made the gesture of obedience. "With my future mate's permission, of course."

"All of our bond will serve you, Oroku," added Woddulakotat. "I would myself, if I could, and willingly. Scars are a thing of the flesh. The tribe will need your soul." He also made the gesture of obedience. "With our future mate's permission, of course."

Guo was—amused, she thought at first. For all her preconsorts' formal submissiveness, she had come to know them well enough to be certain that, if she withheld her permission, the cluster would make her life utterly miserable.

She had no intention of withholding permission, of course, and immediately made that clear—to Loapo as well as Oroku. Jealousy was by no means an unknown emotion among the Kiktu (and all gukuy), but it was not closely tied to sexual congress. Not, at least, among mothers.

She realized, suddenly, that her own mantle was flooded with green. Love for her sisters, of course. But there was more; much more. It had never occurred to her before that moment that greatness of spirit might dwell in the little bodies of males. She had a glimpse, then, of the future she would share with her husbands. Of a romance that would itself become a legend, recited by chantresses.

But it was a fleeting glimpse, for at that moment she felt a stirring in the air around her.

As she turned, she heard Oroku say: "We are as one, Guo. And remember the Great Mother's words: Be ruthless toward all folly."

Silence was falling over the multitude in the clearing. And it was a multitude, Guo saw. There were far more survivors than she had at first realized. The huge clearing itself held over double-eight eighties of tribespeople—and she estimated that there were at least as many packed into the cycads surrounding the clearing.

Once the silence was complete, Kopporu began to speak. She spoke slowly, for she had to shout loudly enough to be heard by all. Nevertheless, it did not take her long to tell her tale.

The battle leader recounted, in a voice devoid of all emotion, her actions over the past few eightdays. She recounted all of the steps which she had taken, including the murders of Yaua and Doroto. She also explained, very briefly, the reasons for her actions. But she made no effort to justify them, or to advance any argument in her favor. She simply presented the facts, and a description of her motives.

When Kopporu finished, she allowed a moment's silence to pass before saying:

"Let the trial begin."

"Now," whispered Woddalukotat.

Guo moved forward into the clearing, her flankers on either side. The murmur which had begun to sweep the crowd after Kopporu's last words died away. Every eye was upon Guo.

When she reached the center of the clearing, Guo slowly turned and surveyed the entire crowd in the clearing. Once she was certain that all attention was riveted upon her, she said—in that incredibly loud voice of which only mothers are capable:

"There will be no trial."

She waited for the surprised hoots to fade away.

"There can be no trial," she continued, "for there are no clan leaders here."

A voice spoke from the crowd: "The tribe may act as judge!"

"Who spoke?" demanded Guo.

Immediately a warrior advanced forward, her mantle suffused with blue—that particular shade of blue which, among gukuy, connoted not simply anger but the outrage of a superior offended by a subordinate. Guo recognized her at once. She was named Ruako, and she was a high-ranked member of Guo's own clan.

Good, she thought. The other clans will not think I am playing favorites.

"Do you know her?" asked Woddulakotat softly.

"Not well."

"I do, for she spent much time in the yurts of the mothers and clan leaders. Ruako is very full of herself. Ambitious and vain. Exactly what you need."

Guo spoke again, very loudly. "How can there be a trial, Ruako, when the accused are not here to answer the charges?"

The warrior's blue mantle rippled with orange. Confusion; astonishment.

"What do you mean, Guo? The accused is standing right there!" Ruako pointed with her palp at Kopporu.

"Kopporu?" demanded Guo. "Who has accused Kopporu of anything? I have heard no accusation."

Ruako emitted that peculiar spitting hoot which, had she been a human instead of a gukuy, would have been called "sputtering."

"What are you saying? Kopporu accused herself!"

"Ridiculous. Kopporu simply presented the tribe with a recitation of events. All of which lead to an accusation against the clan leaders. Misconduct." (The Kiktu term which she used carried much heavier connotations than the English word "misconduct"—gross dereliction of duty; criminal incompetence; reckless endangerment of the tribe.)

"Oh, that's good," whispered Yurra excitedly. "That's very good!"

Ruako's mantle was now positively glowing blue and orange. For a moment, the warrior was speechless. Guo took the opportunity to quickly scan the crowd. She was pleased to see the signs of relaxation everywhere her eyes looked. Like most cultures whose tradition is oral rather than written, the Kiktu took a great delight in debate and discussion. By immediately stepping forward, Guo had taken temporary command of the assembly. Then, by drawing out an opponent and focusing the tribe's attention, she had brought order and logic to what might have rapidly become a chaotic whirlwind of anger and action. Instead, the members of the tribe were settling back comfortably on their peds. More than one warrior, she noted, was showing faint tints of green in their mantles. Kopporu partisans, perhaps; or simply connoisseurs, enjoying Guo's display of skill.

"The clan leaders are not murderers!" squalled Ruako.

"How can you say that? That is precisely Kopporu's charge. Unfortunately, the clan leaders are not here to answer the charge. Hence, as I said, there can be no trial."

Again, the spitting hoot. "Ridiculous! Ridiculous! Who are the clan leaders accused of murdering?"

Guo paused, hoping another would answer. It was important that she maintain as much appearance of neutrality as possible.

To her relief, Gortoku stepped forward.

"They are accused of murdering—those who are not here."

Gortoku spread her tentacles, in a gesture encompassing the entire crowd.

"Where is the rest of our tribe?"

Ruako started to speak, but Gortoku's loud voice overrode her words.

"I ask again: where is the rest of our tribe?"

The answer came at once, from many siphons:

"Dead on the plain!"

"In the bellies of the Utuku!"

"In the Utuku shackles!"

"Just so!" bellowed Gortoku. "And who is responsible for that—Kopporu? Or the clan leaders?"

Silence. Guo waited a moment, then spoke.

"I have permitted this discussion, in order that the tribe might see the truth for itself." She paused briefly, allowing everyone to take note of the word "permitted." Then, when she gauged the time right, she took the bundle handed her by Woddulakotat and opened it. She took the Mothershell in her palp and raised it high in the air, where all could see it.

"As we retreated into the swamp, the Great Mother sent this to me, along with her childcluster." Guo then repeated the Great Mother's last words.

"The mothers of the tribe"—she gestured to Loapo and Oroku— "have discussed this amongst ourselves, and have agreed to respect the Great Mother's wishes. I am now the Great Mother of the Kiktu."

Loapo and Oroku hooted their assent. Very loudly.

Ruako immediately began whistling derision, and uttering various words of scorn. The gist of which was: these are not mothers, they are mere infanta; they cannot make such a momentous decision; children should be seen and not heard; and so forth.

"What an idiot!" whispered Yurra.

"She's perfect," agreed Woddalukotat.

And, indeed, it was so. Many others in the crowd might have, privately, held similar views. But the manner in which Ruako had expressed them settled the issue. The authority of mothers in Kiktu society was more often honored in the breach, rather than in the observance. But it was always honored. The more so, in this instance, in that the infanta so ridiculed had played a glorious role in the battle just passed. Much more glorious—as more than one warrior noted, and loudly—than had Ruako. (And more than one warrior, as well, loudly contrasted the terrible wounds borne by Oroku to the scratches on Ruako's hide.)

Ruako was not so stupid as not to realize, quickly, that she had blundered badly. She attempted now to shift the question on to the general impropriety of the entire manner in which the assembly was being held. This was done through a hurried appeal to Kiktu prejudices.

"Outrage! Bad enough that Opoktu should be allowed at our tribal assembly! Even worse—clanless outcasts have been brought into our midst!"

For the first time since she finished her opening presentation, Kopporu spoke.

"It is not against custom for honored members of an allied tribe to be present at Kiktu assemblies." Then, very loudly: "Or does Ruako now wish to slander the valiant Opoktu as well as our own battlemothers?"

By this time, more and more members of the tribe were enjoying the spectacle of Ruako's embarrassment. Like most arrogant people of high status, Ruako had made many enemies among the Kiktu. And even those who had nothing against her personally were becoming irritated at her conduct.

Again, loud voices were heard. Contrasting the glorious feats of many Opoktu in the recent battle to the modest role played by Ruako. Comparing, in puzzled tones, the great wounds which were clearly visible on many Opoktu to the—(Did she fall into a topobush, do you think? Is that where she got those two little scratches?)—almost unblemished mantle of Ruako.

Kopporu spoke again.

"As for the swamp dwellers, they are here on a matter which concerns my clan. And the tribe. I will explain when we have finished with the question before us."

She stepped back.

"Now," said Woddulakotat. "Yes," added Yurra.

For just a moment, Guo feared that ochre or pink might enter her mantle. Disaster. She brought the image of her slaughtered people to her mind.

Her mantle flooded black. She rose up slightly, and bellowed:

"I invoke the Motherlaw!"

Utter silence. Utter stillness.

In part, of course, the reaction of the tribe was due to simple, physical shock. The voice of a mother, unleashed in all its power, bears a close resemblance to thunder.

But, to a greater degree, the shock was mental. Motherlaw had not been invoked among the Kiktu in living memory. No, more—not for many, many generations. Guo could practically see the thoughts racing through the minds of every warrior in the clearing, as they searched back through the history of the tribe.

They found the answer almost at once, as Iyopa had predicted. It was, after all, one of the most famous episodes in Kiktu history. That time, long ago, when the Kiktu were still a small tribe. Reeling from defeat at the palps of the (now vanished) Laukta. Most of their clan leaders and mothers dead; half of the warriors wounded, dead, or dying; the ones who survived having done so only because of the incredible ferocity of the rear guard which had covered their retreat. At the center of that rear guard had stood a young infanta; who, after the battle, had declared herself the new Great Mother and had seized command of the tribe through invoking the ancient ritual of Motherlaw. She had maintained the Motherlaw for many, many, many eightweeks. Until the Kiktu recovered, and took their terrible revenge on the Laukta.

Her name had been Dodotpi. She was revered in the history of the Kiktu. Partly, of course, because she had saved the tribe. But partly, as well, because the Kiktu were warriors, and Dodotpi had been the greatest battlemother who ever walked the Meat of the Clam.

The entire multitude stared at Guo, and remembered the Battle of the Clearing; and wondered: Or was she?

Motherlaw. A custom whose origins vanished somewhere back in the mists of time. Almost never invoked. Great Mothers were deeply respected among the Kiktu, and even enjoyed a definite authority. (Quite unlike, in this respect, the semi-divine Paramount Mothers of the south, whose actual power was nil.) But it was still the clan leaders who ruled, except in battle, where the battle leaders came to the fore.

Motherlaw was not precisely "mother-rule." On the few occasions when Motherlaw had been invoked in the past, the Great Mothers had always appointed leaders from the ranks of the warriors to actually exercise the power. But their authority derived solely from the Great Mother, and could be withdrawn by her. And the Great Mother served as the final arbiter of law and custom. Judge; jury—and executioner.

Ruako broke the silence. She began squawling semi-coherent phrases, all of which indicated her vast displeasure and disagreement with Guo's person and behavior.

"Fork her," commanded Guo.

Immediately, her eight flankers charged across the clearing. As they approached, Ruako suddenly fell silent. Turned scarlet; and tried to flee. But the flankers were upon her. No less than four greatforks slammed into Ruako's mantle. It was the work of but moments to drag the whistling warrior back across the clearing. The work of but seconds to flip Ruako onto her back. (An unnecessary flourish, of course. The mace which now crushed the life out of Ruako's body would have done so regardless of which way the warrior was positioned. In truth, it would have splintered a boulder.)

Guo allowed the multitude to gaze upon Ruako's corpse for a brief moment, before speaking.

"Does the tribe remember our Great Mother's last words to me?"


"Answer me!"

Several voices: " 'Be ruthless toward all folly.' "



"Just so."

Guo made the gesture of condemnation. Her mantle glowed blue.

"If the clan leaders had survived, their stinking corpses would now be lying next to Ruako's. They are condemned in the memory of the tribe."

She turned and faced Kopporu. "Kopporu!"

"Yes, Great Mother."

"You are now the battle leader of the Kiktu."

"Yes, Great Mother. Who do you appoint as the new clan leaders?"

"No one. We do not need clan leaders. We are still in battle—and will be, until the Utuku are destroyed."

She paused, letting that thought penetrate the minds of her warriors. The formula was that proposed by Iyopa—the same, he said, as that adopted by Dodotpi so long ago.

"There will be no new clan leaders chosen until the Utuku are crushed and our tribe is avenged. Until that time, the Kiktu are an army. Each warrior will answer to her battle leader—and to her alone. Regardless of clan. The battle leaders will answer to Kopporu—and to her alone. Regardless of clan."

She paused, allowing the tribe to digest the concept.

"Do you understand?"

There was no hesitation this time in the response, which came from many, many siphons.

Like myself, thought Guo, the warriors have grown weary of clan leaders.

Kopporu spoke.

"Great Mother, I have a difficulty."

"What is that?"

Kopporu gestured to the swamp dwellers. "The survival of the tribe depends upon these—brave people. They have already aided us beyond measure, as all here know. Many of them have died in so doing. In return, they have asked for no reward except—adoption into my clan. I have promised to speak for them. But—"

Guo finished the thought. "But you cannot adopt them without the permission of the clan leader. Who does not exist. And will not, for—some time."

For ever, came the sudden, shocking thought. A tribe without clan leaders? Forever?

I must think upon that. Perhaps—back to the moment, fool! What am I to do?

"Put them in the battle groups," whispered Woddulakotat.

"Make one of them an adviser," said Yurra quietly. "And don't forget the Opoktu either."

"And the refugees," added Woddulakotat.

Guo pondered their advice for a moment, sorting it out. It made sense, she thought.

"Do the swamp dw—do these brave people have a leader?"

"Yes," replied Kopporu. She pointed to O-doddo-ua, and told Guo her name.

"Bring her forward."

When O-doddo-ua came up to her, Guo spoke quietly.

"I am sorry, O-doddo-ua, but I cannot allow you to be adopted into Kopporu's clan. Not now. Perhaps not—for a long time. By our customs, I would have to appoint new clan leaders. And—I cannot do that now. It is because—"

"I understand, Great Mother." The swamp dweller made a gesture which hinted at derision. Guo found herself warming to the gukuy.

"However, when the time comes you will be adopted. If not into Kopporu's clan, then into my own. I make that promise. In the meantime—"

She raised her head, and spoke to the multitude.

"All of the brave people who lived in the swamp will join our battle groups. They may either choose their own group, or, if they prefer, Kopporu will assign them to a group."

The black in her mantle returned in full force.

"All of the battle groups will welcome their new members. Do you understand?"

Her flankers, more or less casually, hefted their greatforks.

"Do you understand?"


"Good." She made the gesture of contentment. "I am so glad. I detest folly."

The clearing was suddenly filled with humorous whistles. And a great green wave washed over the mantles, sweeping all ochre aside.

I have won. I have won. I have won.

"All of the refugees will do likewise. If they wish, they may form their own battle groups and choose leaders. But I would prefer that they join the battle groups which exist—either those of the Kiktu, or of the Opoktu. We do not need more confusion. Do you understand?"

There was no need, this time, to repeat the question.

She turned now and faced the Opoktu.

"You have, again, shown the honor of the Opoktu to the world. You have fulfilled your oath of alliance. You may now go your separate way, if that is your desire. I will provide you with guides to lead you through the swamp, wherever you wish to go."

The Opoktu mothers, clan leaders, and battle leaders exchanged opinions quietly, while Guo and her tribe waited. In much less time than she would have thought possible, they reached their conclusions. Lukpudo advanced to the center of the clearing, joining Guo and Kopporu. She spoke in a voice loud enough to be heard by all.

"We will remain with the Kiktu. Wherever the Kiktu go, we shall go also. In alliance!"

The clearing was filled with hoots of applause.

Lukpudo's next words were spoken softly.

"But just exactly where are we going?"

Guo looked at Kopporu. Kopporu whistled softly.

"To tell the truth, I never expected I would survive this day. So I didn't really give much thought to it. But—"

The Kiktu battle leader turned and looked to the northeast. Barely visible over the tops of the cycads surrounding the clearing was the Chiton. The great mountain was so far away it could hardly be discerned.

"Let us go to the mountain."

"To the Chiton?" A trace of orange rippled through Lukpudo's mantle. "It's—so far. All the way across the swamp."

"I know," replied Kopporu. "But O-doddo-ua says it can be done."

The swamp dweller spoke up. "Not easily, you understand. It will be a heroic trek, and we will suffer casualties. But, yes—it can be done."

Ochre tints appeared in Lukpudo's mantle. "But still—why?"

"Where else can we go?" asked Kopporu. "The plain will be covered with Utuku, hooting for our blood. They may even try to follow us through the swamp."

O-doddo-ua whistled derision.

"Perhaps the north?" asked Lukpudo uncertainly.

Kopporu made the gesture which was the gukuy equivalent of a shrug.

"To what purpose? How can our people survive in that wasteland? And I am certain that the Beak of the Utuku will have scouts watching the north as well as the plain. Once we emerged from the swamp, the Utuku would be upon us."

Lukpudo was not yet convinced. She now advanced her final argument.

"But—the Chiton is said to be a land of demons now."

Guo spoke.

"The whole world is a land of demons now, Lukpudo. What can demons on the mountain do to our people—that the demons on the plain have not already done?"

Lukpudo was silent.

Guo stared at the Chiton. So far away. A place of legends, and myths. And demons.

And pilgrims, she remembered. She turned to Kopporu.

"Have you spoken to the Pilgrims of the Way, Kopporu? The ones who go to the mountain?"

"Yes. Several times."

"What do they say?"

"They say there are demons on the mountain. Demons from beyond the Clam. Monsters, who move like the wind and slay like the lightning."

"Why then do they go there?"

Kopporu hesitated, searching for words. "They say—it is hard to understand. They say the demons are wise, as well as fierce. That they bring truth along with death. Justice itself, along with the flail of justice. They say that the battle leader of the demons is the most implacable punisher of evil which has ever lived in the world. A terrible creature, black as the night. But there is another demon, they say, who rules and commands."

"They go there to learn from this demon?"

Kopporu made the gesture of negation.

"No, Guo. They go there to plead with her. She is the wisest being in the world, they say, the one who knows the secrets of life, and truth, and justice. But she is silent, and will not speak. Not even to her children."

"Her children? She is—?"

"Yes, Guo. The Great Mother of demons."

Guo stared at the mountain. Moments later, when she spoke, her voice was like bronze.

"We will go to the mountain. I would see this Great Mother of demons for myself. If it is true that she knows these things, I will make her speak to me."

The battlemother gripped her mace.

"My people cry out for justice. If there is a secret of justice, I will have it from her. To hold such a thing secret would be evil beyond all evil."



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