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Old 09-13-2004, 06:17 AM   #288
Shadow of Tyrn Gorthad
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As dawn broke over the Eagle camp, Fador left his tent to join the other Elders in the tent of Mumtaz, who was second only to Fador himself in the hierarchy of leadership amongst the elders. Ordinarily, Fador would have insisted that such an important gathering be held in his own tent, but the presence of his guests, the two Gondorian men, rendered it impossible to meet there. Tribal matters should never be discussed before the eyes and ears of strangers, particularly not at such a critical time. A muscle twitched below Fador’s left eye as he moved silently through the waking camp. Accompanied by the persistent keening and wailing of the official mourners, he had spent most of the night moving from the tent of one elder to the next, talking to each one, making the final arrangements for the smooth transition of power from Ayar to the new chosen two. Now he was tired, and, in his exhaustion, the bitterness that had festered within him for years at being passed over for leadership of the clan in favor of Ayar threatened to boil over into open resentment. He took a deep breath and glanced up at the morning light that was beginning to stretch its silver tendrils across the eastern sky toward the shadows of the grieving camp. He must keep his anger hidden.

"Children!" he muttered in spite of himself. With so much at stake, they were handing the leadership of the clan over to what seemed to him a pair of children, untested and untried children. It was sheer folly. The Eagles needed an elder to lead them, someone with the wisdom and experience that could come only with time. Angrily, he clinched his jaw. He felt almost as though history was repeating itself and he was being snubbed again, but Fador could say nothing about it, show no opposition. After all, had not the Eagles always chosen their leaders from the ranks of the young? As an elder, he knew that he must swallow his pride and uphold ancient tradition, but it rankled greatly. His time would come, he reminded himself. For the moment, however, his resentment would just have to roil unseen in the pit of his stomach.

Passing a young woman who nodded to him with tears in her eyes, Fador nodded back, concealing his thoughts masterfully behind a mask of compassion.

"Is it true, uncle?" the girl asked in disbelief, using the title uncle merely as a term of respect . "I can't believe the Meldakher has really gone."

Fador nodded. "Yes, Salihah," he answered, careful to call her by name. Though he did not know her well, he believed her to be a friend of his daughter, and the granddaughter of one the other elders, though he could not remember for certain which one. "Ayar has indeed departed her human form. It is now time to grieve her and say your good-byes. She will soon be ready to begin her final flight."

"Yes, uncle," Salihah murmured, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.

Fador watched as she turned and slipped away between the shadows of the tents, thinking to himself, yes, Ayar is indeed gone. And may she stay that way, he added on bitter afterthought.

Arriving at Mumtaz’s tent, Fador opened the flap to find that he had timed his entrance perfectly. The others had already assembled and sat in a loose circle around a low brass table that bore a pot of tea, a collection of small clay cups, and an unlit incense pot. A place had been left open for him at the top of the circle, with the supplies laid out at his right hand that he might light the incense and bring the meeting to order. Mumtaz, the owner of the tent, sat to his right, while the place to his left was occupied by Barakah, a tiny, sparrow-like woman. By far the eldest of their number in terms of years, she had a mane of thick white hair that flowed down her back like water and bright, nearly black eyes that missed very little. Beside her sat Hadya, Mumtaz’s sister and the youngest of the assembled elders. It would be her job to pour the tea once the incense pot had been lit and the meeting was under way. Placing his palms together, Fador gave a shallow bow of respect first to Mumtaz and then to Barakah and Hadya. When they had responded in kind, he took his place between them at the top of the circle, his eyes moving evenly from face to face around the rest of the small assembly. Once his eyes had completed the circuit, he nodded to the dozen or so of them as a group. When they had nodded in response, acknowledging his position of leadership, Fador turned and lit the incense pot. Hadya rose and began to pour the tea.

Accepting the first mug of tea from Hadya, Fador began to speak. "It is with great sadness that we meet on this gray dawn. As we all well know, the Meldakher, our beloved Ayar, was taken from us in the night. Her spirit will soon take to the sky for flight into the west." He paused, watching as Hadya continued to place the traditional cups of tea into the hands of the other elders. "It is our task now to decide who shall succeed her as leader of the Eagle Clan."

A soft murmur of voices rippled through the assembly. Fador waited until it had died down, then continued, "It was Ayar's wish that she be followed in leadership by her daughter Narika and Thorn, Narika's husband-to-be."

At this, Barakah spoke up in a voice that was soft yet clear as a bell. "If this is Ayar's wish, then I believe we should honor her choice. She has led us well these many years. I trust in her judgment."

Across from Barakah, Dakarai, a dour old fellow with a full white beard, nodded his agreement. "Yes," he said firmly. "I, too, believe that we should honor Ayar's wishes. I know these young people. They are level-headed and strong. They will lead us well in these difficult times."

"They should be married first..." muttered an unidentifed voice.

"Yes," Fador interjected. "The marriage will take place immediately following the conclusion of Ayar's rite of passage. If we agree to pass the mantle of leadership to them, as Ayar suggested, it shall be to them as husband and wife."

Hadya, who had finished serving the tea and returned to her seat beside Barakah, cleared her throat. "If we... if we don't follow Ayar's last wishes," she said nervously. "We could choose a leader from amongst ourselves, perhaps, an elder... someone we know will have the wisdom to carry us through these rough times. To... to... to lead us into the future with certainty." As she concluded, she cast a significant glance at Fador. He smiled inwardly, though his outward expression remained impassive. Hadya had harbored a fondness for him ever since she was a small child. Truth be known, she had secretly been his mistress for years, both before and after the death of her own husband. She could always be counted upon to be his most staunch ally and supporter, but now he sensed she was in danger of revealing too much of his ambition. He recognized the fact that he had been careless to express his innermost thoughts to her, telling himself that he must be more prudent henceforth. It was far too dangerous at this stage for his ideas to become the topic of open debate.

"Our tradition has always been to choose our leaders from amongst the young," he answered blandly, side-stepping her implications.

"Perhaps it is time to break with tradition," said Harith, another elder, in a quavering treble. Once an accomplished trader, he had interacted much with the outside world over the years and even spent some time in his youth working in the markets of Umbar. Now bent and nearly toothless, he spent most of his time on a mat in front of his tent, playing dice and other games of chance with whomever would be so foolish as to take him on. He cheated like a bandit. "Perhaps it is time that we bid farewell to our isolation, as well. I hear talk of a great maenwaith city the Dragons are building not too far distant. Would it be such a bad thing to trade with this city? To embrace its existence?"

Barakah shook her white head. "I have a feeling that that would be very dangerous, dear Harith."

Again following Barakah's lead, Dakarai agreed. "Tradition is what defines us, Harith. It makes us who we are." He sunk his chin deep into his beard. "To reject tradition would be to embrace our destruction. I vote that we do as Ayar wished and install Thorn and Narika at once. I have spoken with them at great length over time. They understand what is required to protect our people from the evils of the outside world."

Mumtaz, who, by some trick of nature, was exceedingly fat, shifted his bulk and gave Dakarai a thorny look. "We could learn much and greatly expand our base of trade if we do not reject contact with the outside world. Consider these men from Gondor, for example. Think what we could accomplish if we were to have friends in such a place as Minas Tirith! Our new leader must have the foresight to recognize opportunity when it presents itself. And the strength to pursue it for our clan's greater good."

Dakarai answered hotly. "Is your memory so short, Mumtaz, that you forget what the outside world has meant to us in the past? We have learned naught but death and destruction from those who inhabit the world beyond our desert. I, for one, have not forgotten the raids that tore so many maenwaith children from the very arms of their parents." He crossed his arms across his chest with an air of finality. "I will never forget. Our survival hinges upon our continued isolation."

Beside him, Harith ticked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "The cities, my friend," he quavered. "The cities hold the key to the future."

"Hush," snapped Dakarai. "You are an idiot."

Smiling serenely, Barakah raised a frail, dark hand into the air. "And what have these issues to do with whether or not we choose Thorn and Narika to lead us?" she asked quietly. "These are not matters for this assembly to decide, isolation or contact. We meet here today not to determine our place in the world. We meet to select our new leader." She turned toward Fador. "Is this not so?"

"It is," he answered calmly. "Let us stop our petty bickering. But, Mistress Barakah," he added with a polite incline of his head toward Mumtaz and Dakarai. "It is also true that whoever we choose as our leaders will ultimately determine our place in the world. Is that not so?"

Barakah leaned back on her cushion, her bright, dark eyes looking deeply into Fador's out of her sharp-featured little raisin of a face. "Yes, you speak truth as well," she answered. "But I have yet to hear any genuine objection - " Hadya colored slightly " - to the selection of Thorn and Narika as our leaders. Is that not our purpose here? Have they not been taught and trained by Ayar for the very purpose of leading their people through fair and treacherous times alike? That is the question that should concern us today, nothing else."

Fador nodded, feeling as though Barakah's deepset brown eyes could see through his carefully cultivated objectivity, as though through a glass, to the roiling anger within. Just a tiny sparrow of a creature, the old crone, as he preferred to think of her, was deceptively powerful within the clan and would bear watching over the days and weeks to come. Perhaps a drop of poison in her tea would not be misplaced. She was old. Few would suspect any evil. With her gone, Dakarai could easily be brought around to a more reasonable way of thinking, and Fador's words of counsel to Thorn and Narika could arrive nearly without contradiction from the ranks of the remaining elders. His influence would be substantial. He turned a solemn gaze toward Barakah.

"Nor have I," he said gravely. He let his eyes wander from face to face around the circle of seated elders. "Is it then the decision of this assembly that we pass the burden of leadership that Ayar carried so gracefully and so well for lo these many years on to her daughter, Narika, and to Narika's husband, Thorn, to be carried equally between them?"

"It is," said Barakah firmly.

"Yes," agreed Hadya, dropping her eyes.

Fador listened as each of the elders, one by one, agreed to the installation of Narika and Thorn as the new leaders of the clan. "Then so it shall be," he said as the last voice fell silent. "The ceremony shall take place three days hence, immediately following the wedding. In the days between now and that time, our people know well that this counsel may be looked to for guidance if we are needed. My tent flaps shall be closed to no one." He then reached out and upended what was left of his tea into the incense pot, dousing the fire and bringing the formal meeting to a close.

Last edited by Ealasaide; 09-21-2004 at 03:31 PM.
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