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Chapter 25

By the end of the first eightweek, Indira knew that the critical moment had passed. There was still much to be settled, and much, much more to be done. Her life seemed to have become nothing but an endless round of meetings and discussions, and she knew that there was no end yet in sight.

But the details—details! she thought—were not important, now that the central concept for which she had battled had been accepted by all parties.

They would become a single people. United, as one flesh, within the shell of this strange new idea the Mother of Demons had brought to the world, from beyond the sky. The—nashiyonu, she called it.

Already, Indira knew, in all the valleys of the Chiton, the strange new word was being spoken, from the siphons of gukuy from many different tribes and peoples. Many of whom—most of whom—had barely begun to learn the Enagulishuc from which the word derived.

A strange demon word, belonging to a strange demon language. What other word could describe such a strange idea? A people which is not a people. A tribe which is not a tribe. A prevalate in which no clan prevails. (Even, it was whispered, in which the clan themselves barely exist.)

Who, then, is a part of this—nashiyonu? Anyone who chooses to belong. Yes, chooses. It has nothing to do with clan status or birth.

Anyone. Even owoc.

Indira repressed a grin. The gukuy who were squatting in the command circle were all very intelligent beings. Even the recently arrived tribespeople were rapidly learning to interpret human facial expressions and body language. Ushulubang and Rottu, she knew, were already mistresses of the art.

When it came to diplomacy, humans had the great advantage of being naturally adept at shoroku. Indira had no intention of losing that advantage, so she allowed no signs of her feelings to show. But it was difficult not to grin, thinking of the owoc.

In truth, the owoc had not really chosen to become citizens of the new Nation. The concepts would have meant absolutely nothing to them. Indira had simply decreed that all owoc were nashiyonuc by nature. All owoc, everywhere in the World-That-Is-A-Clam, not simply the owoc on the Chiton.

She had expected some resistance to the idea, especially from the Kiktu. The tribespeople venerated the owoc, true. But, as Indira had suspected, the veneration stemmed from ancient totemic concepts. It had nothing to do with any notion that owoc were equal to gukuy.

But Ushulubang, as she so often did, had immediately supported Indira's proposal. Very vigorously. The Kiktu had been uncertain, but they had acceded to the wishes of the old sage and the Mother of Demons.

For a moment, Indira's eyes met those of Ushulubang. The sage was, as always, squatting across from her in the command circle. The two of them were careful not to give the impression that they were acting in collusion. Which, in the narrow sense of the term, they were not. Indira met privately with Ushulubang, but no more often or for longer stretches of time than she did with Kopporu, or Guo, or the Opoktu clan leaders.

The fact remained that they were conspirators. The vision toward which they were each groping was different—or, perhaps more accurately, seen from different angles. But their goals, in some fundamental sense, were identical.

The question of the owoc illustrated that unity of purpose perfectly. Goloku, in her teachings, had often spoken of the need to cherish the owoc, and to oppose their oppression. In this, as in so many things, most Pilgrims interpreted her words simplistically. As a statement of ethical principle.

As such, of course, it was an excellent principle—one of which Indira heartily approved. But Goloku's teachings also carried a more subtle and sophisticated thought, under the simple morality of the precept.

If you allow the weakest to be oppressed, you open the valves to your own oppression. If you flail one who is weaker than you, you will be flailed yourself, by one who is stronger. Do not complain then, fool. Was it not you who blessed the flail in the first place?

Indira had, finally, accepted the awful responsibility which had fallen on her shoulders. But she took this much grim satisfaction in the taking—whatever else, she would ensure the survival of the owoc. It might well be true, as Julius often said, that all species were doomed to extinction. So be it. But the owoc would be granted their rightful time in the universe, to live out their gentle lives in peace, free of fear.

Indira knew what forces she was unleashing on this planet. Those forces would do much that was good. But they would also wreak havoc and destruction. Often, she would wake in the night, trembling. Julius would hold her in his arms, until she finally fell back asleep. Always, then, one thought would enable her to face the nightmares.

Soon enough, the word would spread to all the peoples of all the lands of the world. Abuse the owoc, and you will incur the terrible wrath of the Nation. For all owoc, it is said, belong to the Nation.


Watching Indira and Ushulubang, Julius made no attempt to restrain his own grin.

Look at the two schemers. Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, no sirree. Ha! Machiavelli's Daughter Meets Cardinal Richelieu. Love at first sight.

Feeling eyes upon him, Julius turned his head and met the calm gaze of Rottu.

Oh, yes. Let's not forget "Tentacles" Borgia.

But, the moment the quip came to him, he dismissed it. Not without a certain feeling of shame. He had come to know Rottu rather well, over the past two months. To know her, and to grow to like her. And, as he learned her history, be somewhat awed by her.

Hard as steel, yes. But never evil. Would you have survived her life, Julius Cohen? With your soul intact—as she did?

He looked away. After the meeting, he would spend the rest of the day in the company of Rottu. He saw more of Rottu than he did of Indira, now. Somehow—Julius never did understand how Indira had maneuvered him into it—Julius had become Rottu's partner in crime.

"Research," Indira had called it. "You and Rottu will jointly organize a research team."

Yeah, right. "Research team." Such a nice phrase. It brings to mind starry-eyed visions of Julius Cohen, paleontologist, plumbing the secrets of the unknown.

Treacherous, sneaky, conniving she-devil. An historian, to boot, who knows perfectly well what the phrase really means—and could have said so in plain language.

Manhattan Project Marries Peenemunde. Absent-Minded Professor of Death and Destruction, Meet Your New Associate—Her Squidness, the Spy.

Julius grinned again, very widely. Unlike Indira, he had no fear of having his emotions easily understood by the gukuy. For two reasons. First, he didn't give a damn. Second, he had a secret weapon whenever needed. The gukuy possessed, as a rule, very good senses of humor. But Jewish jokes baffled them completely.

Except, possibly, Rottu. Julius glanced at his partner again.

When I told her I was making her an honorary Jew, she immediately replied that she was too old to convert and besides, she didn't want to be circumcised. Now, where the hell did she learn about that? I think she's getting coached by Indira on the side.

Treacherous, sneaky, conniving she-devils—the lot of them.

Rottu met his glance. A second later, the Pilgrim spymistress looked away, conveying in some subtle manner the message: Stop daydreaming, Julius. The meeting is about to come to the key point.

Julius snorted. He wasn't in the slightest concerned about that. He should worry? When Indira, Mistress of the Dark Secrets, was running the show?

Paying little attention to the meeting, Julius began pondering the real problem he had on his plate. Wasn't there anything on this miserable soft-wooded planet that would make a decent bow?

He mimicked Indira in his mind. "The Mongols made composite bows." That's great, sweetheart. How? I'm a 22nd century paleontologist, not a 13th century nomadic bowyer.

He dismissed the problem from his mind. Rottu had heard vague rumors of some kind of sea-monsters whose weird innards might make suitable material for a bow. She said she would look into it, but it would be a long time before she discovered anything. Very few gukuy peoples had anything to do with the ocean, because of its dangers. And those were far away, and little known.

So forget bows, for the moment. We don't have enough time for long-range planning. The main armies of the Utuku will be here within a few months, by Rottu's estimate.

Chemical warfare, by God. There's the thing.

He began chewing his upper lip. By now, he had completely blanked the proceedings of the session out of his mind.

Greek fire. Or its Ishtarian equivalent. Rottu's already sent an expedition back into the Swamp. O-doddo-ua says there's a kind of oily quasi-vine there which burns like nobody's business. She promised to bring back a pile of the stuff. If we can concentrate whatever the active substance is, we've got the makings of a nice firebomb. By then, Adrian should have finished building the catapults—no, what's the right word? Trebuchet, I think. I'll ask Indira. She ought to know. The Wicked Witch of the Sky designed the damned thing, after all. Like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat, the way she hauls things out of that chamber of horrors called History.

Feeling a sudden tension in the air, Julius focused his attention back on the meeting.

He stared at Indira. He could tell, by subtleties in her posture he could not begin to analyze consciously, that she was poised to strike.

I love you, she-devil.


"Pay attention, Guo!" whispered Woddulakotat fiercely. "Stop daydreaming. They're getting around to the meat of the question."

Guo repressed a whistle of derision. She adored her preconsorts—especially Woddulakotat—and would under no circumstances reprove them publicly. The fact remained that they were still, in some ways—especially Woddulakotat—a bunch of silly males. Fretting over foolishness.

For an eightday, now, since the discussion had finally turned to the problem of building a new army, her preconsorts had been agitated over the issue of the army's commander. A wrong decision here, they insisted, would be disastrous.

Guo must see to it that the right decision is made!

Silly males. The right decision will be made. As always. And I won't have to do anything.

The Goddess will not fail us.

Her preconsorts, she knew, were much taken by Ushulubang and the teachings of the Way. Most males were, especially eumales. Had not Goloku taught that all gukuy are equal within the Coil? Did not Ushulubang flail his Pilgrims with that precept, every day? In the most outrageous manner possible? Imagine! Allowing that pervert Dhowifa to ride about in her mantle, and proclaiming him the best of the new apashoc.

Guo did not object, actually. She rather liked Dhowifa. The pervert had begun to spend much time with Guo's preconsorts. He missed, Guo knew, the company of his own long-lost malebond. After an initial hesitation, her preconsorts had allowed Dhowifa to become a bondfriend. True, Dhowifa was an unnatural gukuy. But—after the Swamp, and everything else, it no longer seemed of much importance. And he was close to Ushulubang, and wise in the Way himself.

Guo did not object to the Way, either. She knew that the new religion was sweeping through the ranks of the Kiktu, pushing aside the old tribal beliefs. But she didn't care. She was inclined to the opinion that beings should believe in whatever they wished. And, even if that had not been her own inclination, she would not have objected. For the Goddess herself had decreed that all must respect the beliefs of others, and their right to advocate that belief.

Guo herself, however, was not moved by the Way. She found its logical intricacies boring. Her husbands-to-be could chatter all they wanted about the subtleties of the Question; she would have none of it. Even if Guo had lost her respect for the clan leaders, she had lost none of her respect for the old beliefs of the Kiktu.

The truth was simple and straightforward. The Goddess Uk had created the world, and rained life upon the Meat. She had given all to the gukuy, and told them to enjoy the bounties of the world. But the gukuy had fallen into sin, and displeased Uk. So the Goddess had returned to the world, to set the gukuy back on the road of righteousness.

It was well known, of course, that no gukuy could gaze upon the sight of the Goddess and live. So the Goddess, in her mercy, had assumed a different form. She had returned in the guise of a demon. A Mother of Demons. With her children, and their glistening spears, to enforce her will.

Let foolish males and others believe in the tales of the demons. The demons were full of tall tales—especially the old fat one, the Mother's mate. Tales of great coils in the sky, beyond the Mother-of-Pearl. Tales of a double coil within every living thing, which created it and shaped it as it grew. Tales and tales and tales.

All nonsense. Guo knew the truth. The Mother of Demons had come to the world to explain the secrets to the people. The greatest secrets of all—the secrets of the future. She said it was not so, of course. The Mother of Demons said she had no magic power over the future. Only the knowledge of the past, of a different world, which enabled her to see the forks in the road ahead. But Guo knew she was lying. The Goddess would blind the gukuy if she told them the secrets all at once, as they really were. So, in her mercy, the Goddess lied, and told only some of the secrets. And only part of those secrets.

It was enough. Once, Guo had meant to force the truth from the Mother of Demons. Remembering that time, she almost flushed red. She would have been destroyed. But the Goddess Uk had loved Guo, and spared her.

"Stop daydreaming!" hissed Woddulakotat.

Guo brought her mind back to the present. The Pilgrim Ghodha was speaking.

"There remains the question of who will command the new army. I believe it can only be"—she pointed to the implacable demon sitting next to his mother—"Yoshef. My reasons are as—"

"No," said the Mother of Demons. "It must be Kopporu."

"You see?" whispered Guo. "Did I not tell you?"

Foolish males. As if the Goddess would fail.


There had been no sign in Kopporu's mantle of her tension. Thus, when the tension suddenly vanished, there was no sign of her relief.

But Ghodha had little of Kopporu's mastery of shoroku. The Pilgrim warrior's own mantle rippled with colors. Predominantly ochre.

"I—do not agree, Inudira. At least I must be convinced."

Ghodha turned toward Kopporu and made the gesture of respect.

"I have the greatest admiration for Kopporu's capabilities as a warrior, and a battle leader. But I watched the battle with the Utuku. It is a simple fact that Yoshef and his apalatunush caused as much destruction as Kopporu's warriors, despite their much smaller numbers. And suffered few casualties in so doing—whereas the Kiktu suffered many. For a barba—for a gukuy, Kopporu is an excellent battle leader. Even a great one. But Yoshef is beyond comparison."

Indira leaned forward.

"I will try to convince you, Ghodha. But it would be better, I think, if Kopporu could convince you herself. Kopporu has said nothing, so far, in this discussion. Out of—not modesty, perhaps, but a desire not to seem self-serving."

She looked at Kopporu. "But this is no time for such pretense, Kopporu. I know full well that you agree with me on this matter. Explain why."

Kopporu hesitated for a moment. What she was about to say would, she suspected, inflame some mantles. But Indira's will was like bronze, as she had demonstrated many times over the past eightweek.

"I also watched the battle, Ghodha. And I do not disagree with your assessment of the relative roles played in it by Yoshef's people and my own. But the question before us regards the future, not the past. We must be guided by different considerations."

Ghodha interrupted. "If by that you are referring to the sensitivities of your tribe, I think—"

Kopporu whistled derision. She respected the Pilgrim warleader's talent, but she was becoming more than a little irritated by her superciliousness toward "barbarians."

"My people, Ghodha—who include far more than Kiktu—would have no difficulty accepting Yoshef as a commander. They would accept it in the same way that they have accepted Enagulishuc as our common language—and for the same reasons. No, more than accept it. They would feel a great sense of confidence, knowing they were led by the demon who slew the Utuku commander with a single cast of his spear."

Kopporu drew a deep breath. Here it is.

"But it would be a false confidence. The army would not be stronger with Yoshef as its commander rather than me. It would be weaker."

Another deep breath.

"Much weaker."

A small uproar followed. Quickly quelled, however, by Indira's firmness.

"Explain, Kopporu," she commanded.

Kopporu held up an arm.

"One. The incredible success of Yoshef's apalatunush in the recent battle was due primarily to surprise. The Utuku had never seen dem—ummun before. Suddenly, monsters were upon them, fighting in a manner which they had never experienced. The ummun had won half the battle before it even started. But this element of surprise will not last forever. We will enjoy it in the next battle, because no Utuku survived this one. Over time, however, the gukuy of all lands will become familiar with ummun and their battle tactics."

She held up a second arm.

"Two. The ummun are by no means invincible, or indestructible. You, Ghodha, are impressed by the fact that the ummun suffered few casualties in the battle. I was impressed by that also. But, since I have spent some time now with the ummun, I have been impressed by another fact.

"There are very few ummun. Not more than triple-eighty warriors. It is true, the young ummun will eventually be able to take their place in the apalatunush. And, over time, their numbers will grow. But there will always be far more—far more—gukuy than ummun. Once that fact becomes known—which it will, there is no way to keep it a secret forever—our opponents will understand that they need only kill a few ummun to cripple the apalatunush."

A third arm. And a fourth.

"Three. And, closely armed, four. Our opponents are powerful in numbers. Does anyone doubt that the Beak of the Utuku would sacrifice eighty—or more—warriors in order to kill a single ummun? Or any of the awosha of the south? And that is my fifth reason. The Utuku are our immediate enemy. Soon enough, the Beak will seek to avenge her humiliations upon us. But the Utuku are, in many ways, the most poorly equipped to fight ummun. Given their numbers, their tactics have worked well against the tribes of the plain. But they are very badly designed against the ummun methods."

A little diplomacy, here. Kopporu made the gesture of respect.

"You yourself, Ghodha, are a former battle leader of the Anshac legions. Would the legions have fared so badly against Yoshef's apalatunush?"

Ochre. Then, the gesture of grudging admission.

"Probably not. Certainly not—in a second battle. Where they understood what they were facing."

"Exactly. The Anshac discipline is, in all essential regards, as good as that of the Utuku. But the Anshac are far more flexible and clever."

One of the Opoktu clan leaders spoke.

"But we are not at war with the Ansha," she protested.

"Not yet," replied Kopporu. "But we will be."

Another uproar, quieted by Indira.

"Explain," she commanded.

Kopporu held up a sixth arm.

"The reason loops back to the question. I have listened carefully to everything Inudira has said, over the past many days. Most of it has been strange to me, and new, and difficult to comprehend. But one thing has become clear. I understand it, because I myself spent a lifetime as a warrior trying to change my tribe's methods of war. Tried and, for the most part, failed. Why? Because—as Inudira has explained—the way in which a people makes war is ultimately an extension of the way they live. Tribes will fight like tribes. Prevalates like prevalates. Savages like savages."

Kopporu groped for words.

"I cannot explain this well. Inudira could explain it much better. This much I know. The whole world is changing—and was, even before the ummun came. You all know this is so. You especially, Ghodha. Nowhere is change coming faster than in the south. Why are there so many former helots among my people? Because the lot of the helots is growing worse in the south. More and more helots are becoming outright slaves. The prevalates are going to war with each other more and more often. More and more, they are encroaching on the plains. And now, a great new cloth is being woven. We are weaving it here, on the Chiton. The cloth we call the nashiyonu. The new army we are building is only a single thread in that cloth—and not the most important one. Think of all the other threads we have decided upon. The new yurts for teaching new skills. The new trade routes we will seek to uncover. The new arts and crafts we will create. All of these things, sooner or later, will bring us into battle with the Ansha—and all the southern prevalates."

She fell silent. After a moment, all eyes turned to Indira.

"Is this so, Inudira?" asked Ghodha.

"Yes. Everything Kopporu has said, and more. I will elaborate on her words, at a later time. But Kopporu has stripped the meat from the shell."

She looked at Kopporu.

"Your conclusions, battle leader?"

"The army of the nashiyonu must be a gukuy army, in its essence. It must be built and led according to the best principles that we know, along with the new things which Inudira will teach us. But those must be principles which gukuy can use. Principles of the flail, not the spear. The ummun apalatunush will have a place in that army, for there are special things which they can do which we cannot. But they will not be at the center, when the clash of armies comes.

"The army should therefore be commanded by a gukuy. Whether that gukuy should be myself, or another, is a different question. But it must be a gukuy. We can, and will, learn much of the art of war from the ummun. And there will always be ummun in positions of command and advice. But no ummun could ever understand a gukuy army as well as a gukuy.

"And, it would be a waste. There are so few ummun, and they know so much. Even the young ones, who remember little of any world than our own, know far more than any gukuy. I would not see them wasted on a battlefield, any more than necessary."

She made the gesture of profound respect to Joseph.

"I, too, was awed by Yoshef's cast of the spear. But I would rather see him cast his thoughts into the sky."


In her mind, Ushulubang also made a gesture of profound respect. Not toward Joseph, but toward Indira.

Shrewdly done, Mother of Demons. As always. There will be no hesitation, now, at selecting Kopporu.

With quite a different mental gesture, Ushulubang considered Ghodha.

I believe I shall make a point of talking more often with that one. Rather too full of the Answer, she is. Answers which would have killed her, and them, had it been she who tried to lead an entire people through the Swamp. Even now, she cannot see past Kopporu's crude armor. It has not yet occurred to her to wonder: how is it that a "barbarian" could see things which I could not?

Because the barbarian, whether she knows it or not, follows the Way of the Question.

But that is for the future. For the moment, there is still a matter to be resolved. There is, after all, a core of meat at the center of Ghodha's prejudices.

For the first time since the council began that day, Ushulubang spoke.

"I fully support the proposal to make Kopporu the commander of the army. But a problem remains, which is the nature of the army itself."

She waited, allowing the council to digest her words.

"Is it to be a Kiktu army? No, clearly not. Kopporu has told us herself that she seeks to adopt Anshac methods—and even more. The methods which Inudira has begun to explain. But that will require the tribespeople to learn a whole new way of war. A difficult thing to ask, especially of warriors who are rightfully proud of their accomplishments in battle."

Another pause.

"Then, there is the problem of the Pilgrims. Many of them will want to join the army. Some were warriors themselves, in times past. From Ansha, and other prevalates. But most are helots, with little skill or training in the craft of war."

Another pause.

"And finally, there is the problem of the former Utuku. Warriors all, and brave ones. Do not deny it, simply because of your distaste for their former habits. They have renounced those habits, and they too must somehow be incorporated into the new army."

A long pause.

"You see the problem? It is not enough to have a commander. She must be able to command an army—an army, a whole and well-knit cloth. But we do not have such a cloth, today. Nor do we have much time in which to weave one."

Ushulubang looked at Rottu. "You estimate that the Beak and the main army of the Utuku will arrive at the Chiton in three eightweeks, am I not correct?"

The spymistress made the gesture of tentative affirmation.

"Approximately. The former Utuku whom I interviewed all agreed that the Beak took the main army south after the battle of the Lolopopo. Leaving only two ogghoxt to watch the Swamp in case Kopporu emerged. One ogghoxt we destroyed. The other will remain in its assigned position south and west of the Swamp. In the meantime, the Beak is preoccupied with completing the conquest of the Papti Plain. Not all of the tribes joined with the Kiktu. Several retreated south, and are still opposing the Utuku."

She made the gesture of certainty.

"They will not succeed in that opposition. But they will keep the Beak occupied for some time. Enough time—barely—for us to weave a new army. And there is an added benefit. Refugees from broken tribes are trickling north. Some have already reached the Chiton. At my suggestion, Kopporu has already dispatched small battle groups into the plain to seek for such refugees. We can add their threads to the cloth."

Rottu fell silent. Seamlessly, Ushulubang continued.

"We have everything we need to weave our army. We have the nashiyonu, which is our loom. And we have the warp and the weft—the ummun, the tribespeople, the Pilgrims, the former Utuku, the new refugees. But—"

"We need a shuttle," said Kopporu. "Someone—it will have to be gukuy—who knows the Anshac methods of war. And the ways of the tribespeople."

"Just so."

Kopporu's mantle turned black.

"And someone who will be able to instill discipline of bronze. A warrior so feared and respected that none will dare challenge her."

"Just so."

After a moment, one by one, all who were present began staring at Dhowifa.



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