Conflicts, once begun, often snowball. In this installment of our story, we see that there is no easy resolution, and war becomes inevitable. Of course, some definitions may vary…
Outland historians proclaim that Atheseans have never fought a war among themselves. By their definition, this is correct: no sentient Athesean species has ever formed an army for the express purpose of causing the submission of their worldmates by killing. However, Athesean definitions differ. By their reckoning, there have been eighty-seven major wars fought since the rise of sentience, twelve of them catastrophic. There are, they say, worse things that you can take away from a people than their lives.
The historians who scoff at Athesean definitions forget the power of words. They should not. After all, wars as they define them have often begun with words, been fueled by and often concluded with them.
Atheseans, and in those times especially the Drusav, consider words the most potent of all weapons. This is why they fight with them more often than with physical implements, and more carefully. This is the reason Nahkorah, considered the most gifted extemporaneous poet living or dead, spent weeks devising her response.
She decided she would have to go to the mountains first.
No Plains Cousin enjoyed mountains except in a distant, abstract sort of way. They made beautiful backdrops to sweeping swathes of plain. In the summer, their melting snowpack filled rivers that otherwise would have run dry. They forced the clouds up, where they would condense and bring down the rains. Mountains were useful, but no one in their right mind would choose to live, much less evolve, there.
Yet, after ten thousand years of shared existence on the plains of the ancient world, a group of Drusav had “consumed the wrong weed” and headed for the mountains. No one knew why. There was speculation: a feud between clans brought about by a woman, or perhaps a man; a lightning strike causing thoughtful survivors to select a place where perhaps they would not stand out so much; some argument or other about any one of a trillion things. Mountain Cousins would say they were smart enough to want better shelter in storms than a few ragged trees, and possessed a finer appreciation of beauty. Plains Cousins thought any self-respecting Drusav would prefer room to run and endless sky over vertical ascents.
Regardless, Plains Cousins stayed on the plains and became tall, lithe and fast. Mountain Cousins stayed in the mountains and became short, agile and slower. Those were just the physical differences, but they mattered. They certainly mattered to Nahkorah. She was the first Plains Cousin to spend more than a few days in the mountains in centuries and by the end of it understood why. This was after she had nearly died in one rock slide, endured the indulgent patience of her hosts as they waited for her to labor up narrow, twisting paths they negotiated with no difficulty, and discovered that at some altitudes, plains lungs found very little of benefit in the air.
She planned for a month and managed three weeks. At the end of it, cramped and nearly out of her mind with claustiphobia, she descended to the plains and spent a week running, strangely haunted by visions of crystal-studded caves and stark peaks broken through shaggy forests.
At midsummer, she delivered her response at a blessedly flat piece of ground beside one of the lakes:
Steps between sunlight and water
Even Tarlah’s ears, straining
Thunder in storms
And geysers of stone down sharp hillsides
Weaving alone between them
Not for you the rumble and thrum, ring and strum of many hooves
United in tempo
Beneath air and sky
Swift rush ever quickening
Across the plains toward unreachable horizons
Not for us
Your solitary paths between
Tall stones, ascending crags and
Those narrow trails and hidden ways
To the peak of the world, where
Tarn reflects sky
Disahnahle, spattered with rock dust from the work they had pulled him away from, nodded. “I doubt I have ever seen the obvious more beautifully stated,” he said after a few moments’ contemplation.
“You do better,” Nahkorah retorted, then stalked away with as much dignity as she could recover.
Her wound was closed but not healed by the acclaim that poem commanded on the plains. This, her companions said, was a pure distillation of bedrock truths. No Mountain Cousin, not even one as gifted as Disahnahle, could have done better. But what could one expect from those who moved in such small groups when not completely alone, shut off from the wide sky?
They said this. But over the next few months, until the snows came, the mountains saw an epidemic of furtive Plains Cousins, sneaking along the mountain trails, drawn by the allure of something hidden and wonderful promised in those verses. And Mountain Cousins, despite their staunch support of their own laureate, could be found whispering the verses to those of their kin who had not yet heard them.
In all wars, invasion either precedes or follows the first shots. Counterinvasion is often the best answer to it. That, or a few avalanches to drive out the invaders. The avalanches came first.
Copyright 2015 by Dana Hunter. All rights reserved.