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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Prologue

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Prologue: White Mountain Horse

The weary traveler descended the mountain pass into the desolate broken plain. The land around him was forbidding, empty. Nothing but rock and sky extended to the horizon. He checked his saddle bags. His supplies were thin. Water would remain scarce. He breathed a sigh of relief.

After a lifetime away, he was home.

Miles off, a scout caught sight of a rising plume of dust. The rider. He raised his spear, and a group of warriors assembled, leapt on their horses and traversed the plain to meet this stranger.

The traveler, ever wary from a lifetime of ritual bloodletting and filial backstabbing, drew his weapon, letting a pair of dark iron balls chained together drop and then swing slowly around him and his horse, an ever-speedening crescendo of orbiting death.

The warriors surrounded the figure, both strange in approach yet familiar in look, and stared intently at him.

"Put the weapon down! You are in the lands of Tsakha, and all invaders will be met with death!"

The traveler smiled fondly. He had invaded countless lands, led men off boats, battled knights covered in steel, looked a berserker in the bloodshot eye and taken off his head. These boys were no threat. But, today, neither was he. He slowed his meteor hammer and let it rest on the ground. "I am no invader. Simply a traveler needing supplies."

"Then you will meet the chief. He will decide if you deserve hospitality or death. Tell us your name!"

The traveler nodded. "My name is Nyima."

upload_2020-1-9_20-45-49.png


Nyima was taken to the chief's quarters, merely a low stone hut, nothing like the castles and earthworks of Kalmar.

The chief approached, unafraid, unconcerned. "Welcome to Tsakha, stranger. I am Gotsang Lokpai, chief."

upload_2020-1-9_22-23-14.png


Lokpai added, "And you are... Nyima? From my rival, Nyima?

upload_2020-1-9_22-30-9.png


The sound of a woman clearing her throat was heard behind behind the chief. "You mean your neighbor, Nyima. We have no quarrel with them."

upload_2020-1-9_22-37-46.png


"Of course, Yid."

The traveler chuckled. "I am undone. I took the name of my homeland when I traveled west. I was just heading home to pray for my liege, before continuing to serve his son. I..." Nyima stopped and stared. An emblem on a post had captured his attention.

upload_2020-1-9_22-55-48.png


Lokpai replied, "That is the symbol of my family and tribe. The White Mountain Horse, under the setting sun."

Nyima stuttered, "I have seen that horse. Carved in the hillside, lined in white rock. Larger than anything around."

"Wait, truly? Where, here?"

"No, back in the lands of my liege. At a place called Uffington."

"How does one get there?"

"Just follow the setting sun until the land ends. There will be water, not just a lake, but nothing but water. And across that water, another land, where Uffington lies. My liege's family, the folk of Ivar the Boneless, is from this land. The way is treacherous, and by the time you would reach it, it will be nothing like the land I am from. The Ivar-people might be nothing but a memory. But that horse, it will remain."

Gotsang Lokpai grasped Nyima's shoulders and gave him a shake. "You have my hospitality and protection, the rest of the way to your land, and back home to Uffington again."

(Many thanks to @stnylan for the AAR name.)
 
Last edited:

stnylan

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Bon Voyage
 

Lord Decobius

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I'm confused and interested in the same time. Will you play with Nyima or Gotsang Lokpai?
I share your sentiment. I believe WJS is playing as Lokpai and his descendants, marching west to the fabled lands of the Ivar-people: out-of-universe, we can see Nyima is never player-controlled. But there was a lot of mystery to this first post: Nyima as a courtier of Ivar (I presume?), and a champion of Blood Games no less, make him quite the enigma. And what was the sigil of House Gotsang doing so far from anywhere they've ever been? Definitely a cool setup.
 

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Nyima is a character from my old AAR, Ivar the Bönless. In that, I started as Ivar, with the goal of reforming the Bön religion. The game was lost in a hard drive crash, so I'm starting anew with Gotsang Lokpai, at the 936 date, with the reverse goal of bringing Bön to the British Isles, starting in Tibet. In addition, this is also a run with the Last Zhangzhung. Can we save the Zhangzhung culture and carry a religion across the map?
 
Chapter 1: The Last Zhangzhung

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Chapter 1: The Last Zhangzhung
The strange traveler departed. Lokpai paced back and forth in his hut, touching his family crest each time he passed.

"You're pacing, my wolf," Yid replied. "You're not seriously thinking of trying to find this horse, are you?"

"What? No, no.... I can't leave the tribe behind. I'm the last of the Zhangzhung chiefs. The Bödpa have come to dominate everywhere in Tibet. The Sumpa are a memory, only a handful of warriors working for the invaders..."

Yid sighed in relief.

Lokpai blinked. "I'm going to have to take the tribe with me. Gather everyone. I'd never be able to make the trek on my own, but everyone together would protect us all."

"Oh, so we're all going to travel like nomads, that's the worst idea you've had, yet."

The chief swallowed. "We're going to have to build ourselves up, not abandon our homes. That... that's going to involve conquest. My partridge, I've been worried for a long time. Our lands are coveted. Nyima would want them. Sumparu would take them. Even the Kingdom of Guge would want to see all Zhangzhung underfoot!"

7.8.936-neighbor.png


7.8.936-sumparu.png


7.8.936-guge.png


"You can't take on everyone!"

"No, no I can't. We need allies. I... Summon our children. They are grown, it is time for them.

7.8.936-kids.png


Lokpai and Yid's children, their son Gekhö and daughters Dzomo and Semarkar, joined their parents the next week. Two other young women and one man, strangers, stood with their parents.

Their father began, "It's time you were married, the three of you. I've had to set you up with rulers that would serve our interests. Dzomo, I'll start wth you. I need you to stay here, look after your mother and me. You will be the Diviner of Tsakha. We also found you a husband. We present Prince Govinda of the Rashtrakuta Empire. He is the uncle of the present Emperor, and although the Emperor was happy to send him here, to us, he is still royalty and a suitable match.

The swarthy bearded man stepped forward and bowed deeply. "It is an honor to have such a beautiful wife," he replied.

upload_2020-1-13_22-49-11.png


Dzomo wrinkled her brow. "Royalty? As you wish, father."

Lokpai turned to his son. "Gekhö, it is hard to say this, but there are no suitable marriages at this time."

His son looked at the two women standing with him. "What, that's it? No one? Not even Queen Amala?"

Lokpai sighed. "Amala would insist on you being subordinate to her, and your children being her dynasty, to be raised in the Bödpa manner. There is a child in Assam, and we have set up a betrothal for now, but if someone better becomes available, I will pursue the chance at all costs for you. However, as the oldest, you will be the next chief."

"...And the son," Dzomo muttered under her breath.

Ignoring his daughter, Lokpai continued, "I cannot let your son become the future chief if he must be a Bödpa Qangma. So, I give you two concubines. They are of low status, so I can't let them be called first wife, but you need chances to sire the next generation. I present Özlem and Chimey.

17.8.936-ozlem.png
19.8.936-chimey.png


The two women looked at each other and the men in shock. "We were sent to be the concubines of a chief!" Chimey complained. "Not some child of his!"

Özlem put a hand on Chimey's arm. "He will be chief. Someday. The time will come."

Semarkar looked around. "Does this mean there is no one for me?"

Lokpai approached and put his hands on her shoulders. "Semarkar, my dove, your husband is unable to join us, and I must send you to him, instead. But do not worry. You are the most important family of us all. Your husband is Purgyal Gyaltsen, Gyalpo of Ü-Tsang. He has already agreed to the marriage, and to a military alliance.

7.14.936-utsang.png


Lokpai scratched his ear and mused to his children, "We'll need his support, if we're going to be able to take the Zhangzhung lands from Guge."

1.9.936-zhangzhung.png
 

stnylan

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No time to stay still
 

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The swarthy bearded man stepped forward and bowed deeply. "It is an honor to have such a beautiful wife," he replied.
Dzomo is Shy, and conspicuously not Attractive or Groomed...
...whereas Prince Govinda is Honest. Hmm. That line probably took all the tact in his body, Mr. Diplo 3.
 
Chapter 2: A Warrior's Fear

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Chapter 2: A Warrior's Fear

Lokpai woke early, burning juniper branches and praying to Damchen. Yid appeared by his side, with a parcel of dumplings prepared for him. Today was a day for a journey.

He had never wanted to do this. The Tsakha tribes had always relied on caution to stay safe. Avoid others, care for yourself, do not rely on trust. Contact with others results in war. Hospitality is always important, but avoid the path of the warrior.

But that philosophy had caused the Tsakha tribes to retreat, hide in the desert hills, destined to become absorbed by the Bödpa. Times required warriors, and that duty would be Lokpai's. And so, he set off for a valley deep in Zhongba, in Guge, south of Tsakha, where the Sentinels of Light gathered.

upload_2020-1-18_16-3-46.png


The Sentinels of Light chanted their mantras, filling the desolate remote valley with the droning calls of a hundred throat-singing warriors. His sparring partner for his initiation was Phagpa, a mercenary and traveler. Somehow, Lokpai found a well of skill within him, and attacked furiously.

upload_2020-1-18_16-4-35.png


Gyalpo welcomed him into the Sentinels of Light.

Word of his success had reached home ahead of him, and warriors from Ü-Tsang started to gather to serve him. His son Gekhö approached.

"Are you going to attack Guge, then? Take the Zhangzhung lands from him?"

His father raised a hand, cautioning patience. "War is expensive, and Ü-Tsang is pressing claim on Sakya right now. We need to know where Guge's troops are, and how they plan to meet us. And so, we are going back to Zhongba. Let us see how they come.

upload_2020-1-18_22-10-18.png


The gathered troops assaulted south, into the valleys. They met no resistance, but also no treasure; everything was held tight along the Brahmaputra river valley far to the south. And so, Lokpai and his men lay siege to Zhongba, while his spymaster delivered regular reports from the Guge capital of Tsarapang. Troops were stirring, Gugese forces were organizing in larger numbers than he had. But then he heard news from home, news that frightened him for the future of Tsakha...

upload_2020-1-18_22-23-0.png


Against all odds, Yid was once again with child. If this was a boy, his land would have to be split with Gekhö. He was confident that a grown man could easily defeat an infant, but Lokpai would rather there be no rivalries between family. And so, with the Gugese levies approaching, and a new child on the way, Lokpai abandoned the siege and returned home.

Once home, he declared his intention to take Kunlun, also in Guge, in the north. Ü-Tsang had finished taking Sakya and vassalized Nyingchi, so they very happily joined Lokpai in his conquest of Kunlun. Lokpai was still on the road when he finally heard the news:

upload_2020-1-18_22-50-58.png


A daughter. The succession was saved.

The war with Guge was a carefully orchestrated circling of warriors, like two great wrestlers, waiting to find the opening in the other's defenses. Both combatants understood that the first to attack the other would be at a grave disadvantage in the mountainous terrain of Tibet, so they traveled in wide circles to evade each other. In the interest of pulling in new allies, but not wanting to end up possibly acting against Ü-Tsang, Lokpai broke his son's betrothal and got him a wife with the High Chief of Nyingchi.

upload_2020-1-18_22-54-28.png


But the armies of Ü-Tsang did not hesitate to meet Guge in the mountains, so Lokpai rushed in with him, guarding the rear as the Gugese made a hasty retreat, and in this way, Kulung was won.

upload_2020-1-18_23-15-59.png


It was but a single step, a mere stepping stone along the path. Far to the east, Vikings would scoff at such a single victory. But it was Lokpai's first, and with it, he found new hope for the future of the Zhangzhung people.

From Kunlun, there was even more opportunity. A pass led off the plateau into the Tarim Basin, and the lucrative Silk Road. He rushed down with his warriors to plunder in the desert.

Here, the towns were less fortified, far too used to using their geography to be safe from raiders. And so, the Tsakha warriors were able to take much more than they ever thought imaginable. The Saka people of Hvamna summoned their troops to meet the new threat from the mountains.

Panic gripped at Lokpai. He was not a warrior. He knows that to flee would be the best option. But he looked at his men, and he watched as the soft levies of Hvamna, weakened themselves by other incursions, were not ready to meet him. And so he commanded his men to stand their ground, continue the siege.

Hvamna descended upon them and fought hard. But still, the Zhangzhung were better trained, better disciplined, and Lokpai saw victory in his grasp. The men of Tsakha would be victorious.

upload_2020-1-18_23-27-59.png


And then a spear pierced Lokpai's heart.

upload_2020-1-18_23-29-56.png


And as he passed on he realized that victory can be a devil's lure from prudence.
 

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A valiant death if nothing else.
 
Chapter 3: A Burning Light

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Chapter 3: A Burning Light

While death stalked the oasis at Keriya, a scream pierced the air in Tsakha. Gotsang Gekhö ignored the sound and continued his vigil in the night air. The icon before him was depicted encased in fire, and he insisted on surrounding it with even more flame from lanterns, golden flames and black skin glowing against the backdrop of the night. "Give me a sign..." he called. "I wish nothing for myself. I wish health for others. That is all. I dedicate myself to you, to your cause, to all your people, just for a sign."

Beyond the shrine, a torch light appeared. It grew quickly, held aloft by Tsentsän, the fastest rider of Tsakha. "Gekhö!" he called out. "Chief Gekhö!"

Breaking from his prayers, he turned to the distraction. "I am not chief. My father is chief."

Tsentsän presented Lokpai's bloody helmet to him. "Not anymore. You are chief."

Gekhö gripped the helmet with both hands, squeezing it with a barely restrained fury. "I must ride to him. Bring my horse, we must return to Keriya."

"Gekhö!" His sister called from the family hut. "It is over!"

He looked at the icon in betrayal, then faced Dzomo. "So? Is mother dead from rotten meat, too? Did Özlem die in childbirth?"

"No. The worst has passed for mother. Özlem has given birth. And Chimey is with child."

Gekhö dropped to his knees in relief. The gods were not mocking him. He would not betray them. Never doubt them. "A boy or a girl?"

"Both."

938.9.26-Twins.png


He returned inside to see his family, tell everyone the fateful news, and ride to Keriya. The children were to be named after his parents. Özlem would have to be his eyes and ears in his absence. There was something about this situation he missed, but he knew that the mother of his firstborn would be loyal.

upload_2020-1-23_6-42-5.png


It was only upon seeing the Saka retreat cowardly that he realized he had not lain with Chimey recently.

But he had little chance to think about that. The rage he felt at his father's craven murder returned as he led the men to finish ransacking the oasis. The fortress had been breached, the city was looted, and only the Buddhist temple remained. He looked at all the golden statues within and tore them angrily from their places of respect. Now that face, the serene form, looked so out of place from one who had slain his father. He thought about how his people had been persecuted, his religion co-opted and frowned upon over the centuries. He would be back for Keriya.

Hvamna regrouped and attempted to repel the Zhangzhung raiders, but were once again successful. The entire realm was in mourning for the loss of Gotsang Lokpai, and the calls for revenge against the Saka, revenge against the Buddhists stoked flames in the hearts of tribesmen who dedicated themselves as warriors.

940.11.26-new warriors.png


Gekhö came home, laden with treasures from Keriya. He saw his men welcome him as he returned to Tsakha, flying flags in mourning. They wanted more. More revenge. He promised them they would have it, very soon. Gather in Kunlun, wait his command. But first, he needed to address things at home. Özlem was waiting for him.

"Welcome back, my chief. The Zhangzhung tribes call out for blood for the death of your father."

Gekhö dismounted and embraced his concubine. "Indeed. I'm surprised you've helped. You never liked him."

"He betrayed my and Chimey's clans' trust. He asked for us as concubines for himself, a chief, but then spurned us both and gave us to you. Chimey never recovered. I simply prided myself that you would be chief one day."

Gekhö smiled. "Indeed. And now our son will be chief one day. See? There is nothing to fear."

"One does what one must to survive. Or not..." Özlem looked out into the distance.

Gekhö scanned the mountainside with her and viewed a cave entrance. "What? Is something there?"

Özlem leaned against his shoulder and replied, "You should find out, my chief. Now is a good time."

He grabbed his spear and walked a well-worn trail to the cave entrance. This path was used often, he realized. Daily. He stealthily approached. If there's one thing Gekhö had learned over the years, it was how to be silent. He crouched near the entrance and listened. There was a woman sobbing. With his first look inside, he saw a shrine to Buddha that had been erected. So this was where Chimey kept her secrets. Underneath, the undressed, weeping body of his very pregnant concubine. And holding her, comforting her, was the tender of the Gotsang yak herd.

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Chimey gave birth to a daughter. Mebar disavowed any connection to the child. Gekhö promised them both that their baby would never know of the betrayal they had caused, and set them both on fire.

Now was the time to finish that revenge. Tsakha flooded into Keriya.

The Saka had already proven to be no match for Gekhö's men, and now that warriors and zealots joined his cause, victory was quick and the oasis was his. He walked through the town, looked at the farms, the fortress. These were not his ways. "Burn it," he commanded, "Burn it all!"

He immediately kept his troops rallied. "No time to rest! The kingdom of Guge is still held by the interloper's faith! Our people remain enslaved under Buddhist Purgyal rule, both in Guge, and under his brother in Maryul! We will take Rutog, throw the Bödpa masters out, and return the land to the Zhangzhung!"

The zealots cheered and marched. The warriors cheered and marched. "Gekhö is king!" they called. "Gekhö is king!"

942.11.8-ngari.png


Ü-Tsang once again lent support. They may be Purgyal, family of the rulers that subjugated his people, but they adopted the Bön ways, and would be tolerated. Yid, mother Gekhö, joined the Sentinels of Light herself, and he gave her a role commanding his armies. The Nagchu tribe, part of Ü-Tsang, and Gekhö's wife Dagmo's home, asked for help with a war with Qamdo. He showed his solidarity, but did not yet march east, wanting to ensure Rutog was taken. The Zhongba tribe rebelled against Bhakra Shimsgon, so victory was certain, and quick. All true Bön faithful knew their time had come.

944.2.15-winrutog.png
 

stnylan

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Starting off his time with plenty of blood.
 
Chapter 4: The Scourge of Brahma

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Chapter 4: The Scourge of Brahma


Gekhö walked around the gompa monastery of Rutog, marveling at the size of the construction. His sister Dzomo joined him as they surveyed the tribe's new possession.

"Have you ever seen such a place, Dzomo?"

"No, I have not. It is very defensible."

"Why do you say that? All I see is everyone huddled in one place, easily targeted."

"Do you forget the siege, brother? The walls kept you out. Yes, you were free to go around it, keep everyone trapped inside, but you did not find a way in until much later."

Gekhö nodded. "True."

Dzomo pulled a scroll out of a stack where a monk had abandoned his work. "I suppose you plan to burn this as well?"

Gekhö waved his hand. "No. They were held by a Buddhist Purgyal, but these lands are Zhangzhung. I cannot massacre my people that way..." He listlessly turned a scroll over in his hand, stepped outside, and looked at the summit of the complex.

When Dzomo emerged from the library, Gekhö asked, "Do you know how this place is run? You're the smart one of the family."

Dzomo pursed her lips. "I should be able to figure it out. There are plenty of records to go through."

"Then this monastery is yours."

upload_2020-1-23_18-55-48.png


"It will be good for you and Govinda to have your own place. I think Özlem doesn't like him very much. She's prone to sudden attacks. Steppe life."

Dzomo laughed. "Govinda is lazy and has cancer. I can't blame her too much. Go easy on her, will you?"

"Haha, of course, sister, of course."

A boy ran up to him. "The foreigner is here, King," the lad announced.

upload_2020-1-23_18-59-4.png


Nechemiah of Castle Rising dismounted and climbed step after step, out of breath in the already thin air.

Gekhö smiled and warmly greeted him. "Hello! Nechemiah! Welcome to the Kingdom of Ngari. Do you need something to eat? Drink?"

Nechemiah looked around, thinking about proper protocol. "I am satisfied, thank you, your majesty."

Gekhö grinned widely. "Boy, bring us some tea. Now then, let me tell you why I've brought you here. I am a king of the Zhangzhung. Not the King, just a king. But all my land, and all of my neighbors, used to belong to the Kingdom of the Zhangzhung. Now, I say I am just a king, but I am the only king of the Zhangzhung. Do you follow?"

Nechemiah considered the situation. "You want to be The King of the Zhangzhung."

"Yes! But that title is held by an invader, someone whose lineage dates back to Songsten Gampo, the cruel betrayer of his wife, a princess of the Zhangzhung. And so, I need you to go to his kingdom, and search for evidence that his kingdom is rightfully mine. Our library is at your disposal."

Gekhö's scouts reported more news regarding Maryul to the west.

944.2.25-maryulattacks.png


This was the opportunity he was looking for. Maryul was owned by Bhakra Shimsgon's brother, but was well-fortified and high in the mountains. The distraction of attacking someone else was the chance to raid for territory. Maryul was old Zhangzhung land as well, and there were exclaves of his people scattered beyond. He vowed to unite them all. The conquest of Pangong was fast, and Gekhö's men immediately set about ravaging the remaining Bödpa Buddhists. Everywhere, people started to refer to King Gekhö of Ngari as the Scourge of Brahma.

In the meantime, Nechemiah was producing results. Small results, but results.

upload_2020-1-23_21-57-44.png


They were still officially in truce, so he simply gave the papers to Dzomo for safe keeping in the Rutog library and recommended continued research.

The king of Ü-Tsang died, and his son, not of Gekhö's sister Semarkar, took the throne. The alliance was broken, and could not be reforged.

But Gekhö's warriors had other news:

945.7.19-keriyaruined.png


Keriya had been cleared of the last trace of the Saka. The land was now fit to be refilled with the Zhangzhung. In Tsakha, prayer flags were festooned throughout the province, and a stupa was erected to the gods.

upload_2020-1-23_22-12-50.png


The tales of caravans passing through Keriya again as the tribes moved into the oasis intrigued the king, and he learned the truth:

upload_2020-1-23_22-22-50.png


Suddenly, the business in Khotan became extremely attractive to him. There were raids, then conquest:

949.1.8-Khotan.png
 

stnylan

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So very far to go :)
 

Lord Decobius

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I know your main goal is to the west, but will you take all of the Tibetan Plateau as well? Things seem to be progressing nicely.