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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Prologue

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The People of the Forest


Travelers in the Forest|Taiga by Ville Assinen

Prologue

Fear had always ruled Kardaz's life. He had always been a coward but he had hid it well. His greatest fear had always been that others would find out what a coward he is, and that fear had forced him to do things when others were watching, that he would never have dared do on his own. Growing up he had run faster and competed harder against the other boys in the tribe because he feared the punishment he would receive from his father if he failed or came in last. He became a stealthy hunter because he feared making any noise that might attract predators or give away his position to enemy tribesmen. But in its own way, his cowardice had helped him become what he is today, the High Chief of the Merya tribes, also called the western Mordvin tribes; the Merya, the Yaroslavl, the Uglich, the Bezichy, and the Torzhok.




It begun almost 20 years ago....



750 AD - The taiga outside the villages of the Merya Tribe

Five young men moved through the dark forest in single file. The largest man broke trail through the early autumn snow blanketing the forest floor, the rest following in his footsteps. They were seeking the lair of the king of the forest.

When the old High Chief had died, the tribes came together to elect a new High Chief. The old chief had outlived his sons and had no grandsons, so the seat was thrown open for all able bodied men of the five tribes of Merya.

Each of the five tribes had provided a candidate, and they had all been sent on a hunt to find the spirit of Otso the Great Bear, to demonstrate their prowess in the hunt and put their fitness to rule to the judgment of the gods. Kardaz was chosen by the Merya tribe based on his skill in the competitions and his success at hunting, fishing, and trapping as well as his apparent calm in emergencies, not realizing the calm was more being rooted in terror rather than calmly assessing a problem.

As the hunting party moved through the forest, Kardaz had lagged behind, not wanting to be the first to stumble on the forest spirit. A hand signal up ahead had indicated they had found their prey and the hunters surged forward, none noticing Karzad trailing behind. Ahma of the Bezichy had been the first into the clearing and bravely charged the beast with his spear, only to see it violently swatted aside, and then he was caught in a crushing embrace, his shouts of defiance cut off as the king of the forest's jaws closed on his skull.

Viryas of the Torzhok and Kako of the Uglich rushed in, attacking from two sides. The bear hurtled the body of Ahma into Viryas and then spun and charged Kako. Kako's spear drove into the bear’s chest, holding it back for a second before the haft splintered and the bear was upon him, one swipe of its paw crushing his skull and tearing away his scalp. As Viryas crawled out from under Ahma’s corpse, Nuyat of the Yaroslavl and finally Kardaz entered the clearing. Kardaz froze for a second taking in the carnage, then turned to see Nuyat looking at him. Kardaz shifted his spear and then forced himself to advance into the clearing, “Stay together” he said, planning to keep Nuyat between him and the bear as long as possible.

The bear hadn’t noticed them yet as it continued to maul the dying Kako. Viryas staggered to his feet and then began casting about, looking for the spear that he had dropped when the corpse had struck him. The bear finally noticed Nuyat and Kardaz and moved toward them, but their two spear points jabbed at his nose and eyes causing the bear to retreat. The snapping of a twig as Viryas pulled his spear from the underbrush drew everyone’s attention, and the bear charged Viryas. Nuyat and Kardaz gave chase, yelling out warnings, but they didn’t have the bear’s speed. The bear hit Viryas before he could set his spear and caught his shoulder in its jaws and began flinging him about like a child’s doll. But Nuyat’s spear driven into his haunch caused the bear to release Viryas and his body flew into a nearby pine tree and he fell to the ground stunned.

The bear spun about so quickly Nuyat’s spear was torn from his grasp. The bear sprang at his tormentor and bore the Yaroslavl warrior to the ground, its claws ripping into his belly. The jaws followed and began tearing out Nuyat’s stomach and intestines. Kardaz scrambled backwards, looking on in horror, making no move to come to Nuyat’s aid as he screamed in agony. He stood there for a few moments rooted in terror. He thought about running away, but feared that as soon as he moved the bear would see him and run him down. His only chance to survive was to kill it while it was focused on eating the other man alive. He wished he had his bow, but the diviners had insisted that the candidates only carry spears, so the bear spirit could see them up close in order to judge them. Growing up he had excelled at in spear throwing competitions, but had never used the skill much against live targets that might attack him if he missed. He preferred being a trapper, setting snares and deadfalls, where the prey was usually already dead when you returned to check your traps.

But his fear of death now overruled his fear of failure. There was no time to waste or think about it anymore. He took 3 running steps toward the bear and launched the spear. It flew straight and true and pierced the bear’s side behind its left shoulder and drove straight through the ribs and into the heart. Kardaz stumbled forward a few more steps and then fell to his knees in the snow. The dead bear collapsed onto Nuyat’s body. Nuyat had stopped screaming, but Kardaz wasn’t sure if he wanted to see if he was dead or alive.

Then a weak voice called out, “Nice throw.” Kardaz turned and saw Viryas struggling to pull himself up with his good arm, the other hang limp at his side, soaked in blood from the wound in his shoulder.

“I missed what happened after I saw you two charging the guardian, then it tossed me away. But I woke up in time to see you kill it.”

Kardaz ran over to him and helped him up by his good arm. “We need to check on Nuyat.”

He helped Viryas over to the bodies and they saw the wreck that had been made of Nuyat’s torso. He was past saving. Kardaz bound up Viryas' shoulder and then skinned the bear and cut off it's head. Then the two of them made their way back to the tribal gathering.

The shaman and diviners of the five tribes led a peijaiset ceremony to honor the guardian spirit of the forest that had been brought down and thank it for helping them choose their future leader. The guardian's skull was hung from a tree at the edge of the clearing and gifts and offerings were placed around it. The bodies of the three fallen warriors were buried at the base of the tree with all honors. And then, before the spirit of Otso, with Viryas’ endorsement, Kardaz was elected the new High Chief of all the Merya tribes.



For the next 20 years Kardaz had ruled the Merya tribes in peace and avoided any full scale wars. There had been raids of course, but his War Chief and Marshal, Vechkas, had lead those while Kardaz had ruled from his longhouse in Merya; dealing with traders coming up the Volga, organizing the hunts, and managing the internal squabbles of the tribes. The raids had been kept small enough to not antagonize their neighbors, while still showing that the Merya tribes were strong, not to be trifled with. So Kardaz had taken a wife and started a family and his people had enjoyed a quiet life of peace and prosperity.

But times were changing and his people were beginning to worry that Kardaz was not the man to lead them as threats grew all around them. The Slavic tribes, mainly the Ilmenians, were raiding more, pushing east, driven by the growing strength of the Christians in the west. The Khazar nomads were attacking their fellow Mordvins in the east, taking land and slaughtering followers of Ukko, Akka and the other Suomenusko gods. To the north, their Finnish neighbors and fellow Suomenusko faithful were under attack by Norse invaders.

The Meryans were beginning to feel that they needed a warrior to lead them in these troubling times. Kardaz needed to take drastic action to address their fears.
 
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Kardaz needs to take drastic action to address their fears... because he is afraid of what will happen to him if he doesn't. This is one of the best narrative uses of the craven trait I've seen: turning a paralyzing weakness into the primary motivator and strength for your protagonist. Very cool!
 
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Following with interest.
Interesting story, will follow!
Thanks, welcome aboard.

Kardaz needs to take drastic action to address their fears... because he is afraid of what will happen to him if he doesn't. This is one of the best narrative uses of the craven trait I've seen: turning a paralyzing weakness into the primary motivator and strength for your protagonist. Very cool!
Thanks, I saw that he had managed to stay High Chief for 20 years in a warrior culture, he wouldn't have if he had let on he was a coward. Being gregarious and a grey eminence would also help him explain away some of his less than heroic actions.
 
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769 - The Lodge

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769 - The Lodge



"You what?" the large young man in the bear skin asked.

High Chief Kardaz of Merya was sweating, but not from the heat of the roaring bonfire in the middle of the great Lodge. "I wish to apply for membership in the Followers of Otso." he repeated.

Ihala Karjalainen, a Hero of the Followers of Otso, looked taken aback, then answered, "Sorry, we just don't usually take fledglings so late in life...How old are you?"

"36" Kardaz replied

In Ihala's eyes, that was ancient. Ihala, the only son of the Chief of Karjala, had joined the Followers at the age of 13 and 5 years later he was already a Hero, a prodigy among even the hardened warriors of Otso. He continued hesitantly, " Well, you will have to prove yourself like any other recruit, High Chief. We don't take just anyone, no matter what their rank outside the Lodge."

"What do I need to do to prove myself?" Kardaz asked.

"You need to fight one of our own and prove you have a warrior's spirit."

Karadaz had feared as much. He almost turned and fled, but thought of he and his family being cast out of his tribe, replaced by some over-muscled warrior, like the boy in front of him, because his people didn't think he could protect them. He had to show them he was a warrior. "I'll gladly fight to prove myself." he proclaimed with a false smile.

Ihala thought a bit and then said, "We do have another old man we can try you against. Come back in 5 days and we will have the match."

Kardaz had hoped to get it over with quickly before he could change his mind, but reluctantly agreed to return in 5 days.

***********************************

When he returned five days later, he found a crowd of warriors had gathered to watch the initiation challenge. Ihala was with another man wearing a red scarf. Kardaz recognized the other man, it was Surt Meryavid, a fellow Mordvin and the High Chief of Vologda, his neighbor on the far bank of the Volga River.

Ihala introduced him as "Fledgling Surt" , "He has been Fledgling for 6 years, almost ready to be promoted to a Warrior in the Lodge. He will test your skills and spirit."



Surt stepped forward and elbowed Kardaz in the ribs and laughed "Fresh meat, eh?" But Kardaz was heartened even as the spectators laughed, he recognized false bravado when he saw it. Surt was as much a coward as he was!



A space was cleared in the Lodge and the two men were given wooden staffs and told to fight. Surt handled the staff like he knew how to use it, he had had 6 years to learn how to hide his cowardice and pick up some skills. Vechkas, the Marshal of Merya, had given Kardaz some pointers when he had learned what Kardaz had planned, but that wouldn't erase 36 years of avoiding fights. But Kardaz had one advantage, he knew Surt was a coward, and Surt didn't know that he was too.

He took the most important piece of advice Vechkas had given him to heart, always attack when you had the advantage. So as soon as the signal was given to begin, he immediately charged across the arena and launched a flurry of blows at his opponent. Surt froze in panic for a second and one of the blows made it through his defense and struck a glancing blow to his eye. Unfortunately for Kardaz, it did not land hard enough to end the fight right there. The blow woke Surt up though and he remembered his training. He was easily able to deflect the rest of Kardaz's attacks as he slowly backed away.

Kardaz continued to attack, hoping to sneak another blow through Surt's defense, but it was not to be. Soon his arms began to tire. Surt recognized his exhaustion and began his own attack. Kardaz managed to block most of the blows, but was driven back. And then Surt used some trick one of the other warriors must have taught him and landed a crushing blow on Kardaz's wrist, driving him to his knees. Surt laughed in relief, he had won. Kardaz protested with his own false bravado, " No, I can still fight!"



But Surt tapped his staff down on Kardaz's and the weapon fell from his numbed hand.

The surrounding warriors roared their approval, impressed by Kardaz's aggressiveness and his fighting spirit in wanting to continue even when wounded. Ihala stepped forward and produced the red patterned scarf that marked a Fledging of the order and tied it around Kardaz's neck. He grabbed Kardaz by his good wrist and lifted his arm, "Give a grand welcome to our newest member, Fledgling Kardaz!!".



The crowd cheered again and surged forward, pounding Kardaz on his back and filling his hand with a horn of mead. The celebration continued long into the night.

The next day, the festivities continued, with several members of the Lodge going on a hunt. Kardaz went along and proved his skills from a life time of hunting. Even the boy-Hero Ihala was impressed by Kardaz's skill in the forest. The group returned with enough game to feed the Lodge through another night of celebration. Several members offered to spar with Kardaz and give him some pointers, but he politely declined, using his swollen wrist to avoid any further dangerous bouts. But after a few refusals, he heard a few grumbles about how a true warrior would fight through injury, and he knew he couldn't keep refusing challenges.

Later that night, deep in his cups Kardaz recognized another face he knew. High Chief Uzhara of Mordva was another local Suomenusko Chief, ruling the Mordvin tribes south of the Oka River on the edge of the Steppe. He appeared to have the rank of Warrior among the Followers.



Uzhara came over to the table where Kardaz was drinking with some of his new friends (he had always been a good talker) and challenged the newest recruit to an arm-wrestling match, flexing his right arm to show off his bicep. An arm-wrestling match seemed a much safer contest to Kardaz than the sparring contests others had offered, but in this case his swollen wrist would actually be a legitimate reason to refuse. But looking at the expectant faces watching him around the table, Kardaz decided he must accept the challenge to avoid losing face. Then he had a sudden idea, and responded to Uzhara. "My wrist is still swollen from the mighty blow Fledgling Surt struck," as he paused, he saw the faces of his companions looking disappointed, thinking he would decline another challenge, so he continued," but if you would be willing for us to arm-wrestle left-handed, I will gladly accommodate you."

The men at the table cheered and pounded the table. A space was cleared for Uzhara to sit across from Kardaz and the two men clasped hands. Uzhara looked uncomfortable and shifted his left arm several times to try and get in position. It was as Kardaz had hoped, the High Chief of Mordva had as little experience arm-wrestling left-handed as Kardaz did, he might now have a chance to show a respectable effort before losing. A crowd gathered as the two Chieftains locked hands and the wagering began, the odds going with the Warrior over the new Fledgling. Finally, Hero Ihala came forward, seized their clasped fists, and then signaled for them to begin.

At first , it looked like Uzhara would have an easy victory as he began forcing Kardaz's fist slowly toward the table. But straining every muscle, Kardaz refused to give up, and his fist's descent stopped, and slowly but surely he began to regain ground, pushing their hands back up to vertical and then in a final surge forcing Uzhara's hand to the table with a solid thump, surprising even himself.



Uzhara initially glared at Kardaz as he rubbed his knuckles, but soon Kardaz cajoled him into a better mood, going on about how Uzhara almost had him with his initial show of strength. All the warriors at the table were impressed by his graciousness in victory. And those that had bet on him cheered and brought him more drinks.

After a few more days of celebrations and heavy drinking, which was by far the main activity at the Lodge, Kardaz finally managed to break free from his new brothers and return home to his duties. He was now confident that he could reassure his people that as a member of the Followers of Otso, he would be able to protect them from whatever dangers might lie ahead.
 
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Interesting. Subbed
 
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Great prologue, and Kardaz has made a good start
 
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769 - Merya Tribe

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769 - Merya Tribe

Kardaz returned home sporting his new scarf. He had told no one that he had planned try and join the Followers of Otso except Vechkas, not even his wife and family. He had not wanted anyone else to know, in case his application had been rejected. Now, he strolled slowly through the village greeting everyone he could see, rather than rushing straight back to his longhouse. He wanted as many people as possible to see him marked as one of the Followers of Otso, so the knowledge would spread as fast as possible. That was the whole point of him joining after all.

Eventually he made his way to his own door and went to check on his family. He found his wife alone.

High Chieftess Tundava of Merya was only a year younger than Kardaz, but she still looked good even after bearing three children. She had fulfilled her ambition to marry a ruler 15 years ago when she had married Kardaz, the High Chief of Merya. The fulfillment of the ambition had given her a passion for Kardaz that had lasted 3 years and resulted in 3 children. But the passion had cooled soon after as she realized Kardaz had no ambitions of his own to be more than he already was. Her life with him had basically peaked with their marriage, but it had taken her three years to realize that.

As their marriage bed had grown cool, Kardaz had hinted at taking a concubine or two, but his wife's very descriptive threat of feeding his manhood to the hogs if he brought another woman into their home terrified Kardaz so much, he never broached the subject again. Tundava did her wifely duty on feast days and other special occasions and never cut him off entirely, as there were times she was in the mood herself, so Kardaz took what he could get. But it seemed without that passion, the goddess Akka did not see fit to bless them with more children.

But when Tundava saw that scarf around Kardaz's neck and realized what it meant, she felt that passion stirring again for the first time in 10 years and with it her ambition. She would not only be the wife of a High Chief, but also the wife of a Warrior of the Followers of Otso, or even someday a Hero.



Kardaz did not yet realize that his home life had just changed for the better.

"Hello Tundy, my dear. I'm back and have good new..." Kardaz was cut off as his wife began kissing him with a fire he hadn't felt in a long time. After a moment, he came up for air, and looked around.

"Where are the children?"

"Viryay and Putyayka should be training with Vechkas, unless Viryay has snuck off to spy on the women in the sauna again. Sinyava is out gossiping with her friends since you left her on own by disappearing for a week instead of doing your duty as her guardian. "





"In that case, in seems we have time ." Kardaz said as he dragged Tundava back to their sleep chamber, thinking that joining the warrior society had been a great idea.

.............



The next day he called a meeting of the Tribal Council to go over what had been happening while he had been gone. After the initial greetings and congratulations on becoming a member of the Followers of Otso, he called the meeting to order. The first news he heard was all bad. While he was away, Orunza, the Steward, had allowed a group of smugglers into Merya. The smugglers had made off with several wagon loads of building supplies, delaying several projects throughout the tribal lands and increasing the project costs as the missing supplies needed to be replaced.



Orunza protested, saying it wasn't his fault, his duties had him stretched too thin trying to be a steward to all five tribes to keep an eye on everything going on. Kardaz was trying to run all five of the tribes from Merya and Orunza couldn't be everywhere at once.

To everyone's surprise, Kardaz agreed with him. "You are right, Orunza, having to keep track of everything going on from Yaroslavl to Torzhok may be too much for you to handle. Unfortunately, you are currently the best person I have to do the tallies. I have been thinking on this and have already thought of a solution."

All of the council sat up with interest. Orunza, however, looked worried, chewing on the comment about "currently".

Kardaz continued, "With the increased raids by the Ilmenians to our west, we need a stronger military presence in Torzhok. Rather than having Vechkas face the same difficulty you seem to have, Orunza, by having to constantly run from Yaroslavl to Torzhok, I've decided to set up a base of operations in the Torzhok tribal lands. "

Orunza groaned, "That will take even more of my time, and I'll have to be in Torzhok to supervise any construction."

"No you won't, that will be the responsibility of the new Chief of Torzhok. He will get his tribesmen and his own councilors to strengthen Torzhok's defenses."

That got the attention of all the Council members. The High Chiefs of Merya had held onto the Chiefdoms of all five tribes since the tribes had united for mutual protection close to a hundred years ago.

Kardaz turned to Vechkas, " Do you think you can handle that responsibility, Chief Vechkas ?" he said with a grin at his oldest friend.

Vechkas replied more solemnly, " I do indeed, High Chief Kardaz."



The other Council members gathered around Chief Vechkas congratulating him on his new position. Shkay the Spymaster and Kezhapa the Chancellor enthusiastically, Diviner Kichay more politely, and Orunza somewhat begrudgingly.

Kardaz called the meeting back to order, " We will have a more formal ceremony to recognize the new Chief of Torzhok at a feast later this week. For now back to business."

Kezhapa spoke up, "There is one topic we have been meaning to bring up." He hesitated.

Kardaz asked, " We?"

Vechkas looked embarrassed, "Kezhapa and I.."

Kezhapa stepped in, "We have been discussing the inheritance laws.." Again he hesitated.

Kardaz prompted him , growing irritated, "And..?"

Kezhapa sighed, " The current laws allow only male issue to be considered for election, this restriction led to the circumstances which required the extraordinary lengths the tribes had to go through to find you when the Old Chief died. If both the male and female children, or relatives, of the chief could be considered we would reduce the chance of a similar problem cropping up.... We propose making that change to the inheritance laws.'

Kardaz looked angry, " I have a son, that is not an issue." he said flatly.

Kezhapa looked worried but pressed on, "Yes, Viryay is a fine boy, but the Old Chief had 3 sons, and they all died before he did, with only a granddaughter between them. If ... if anything should happen to your son before you die, we would be once again without an heir, instead of being able to turn to one of your daughters."

Kardaz looked at Vechkas, " This is about Putyayka." Returning to an old argument.

Vechkas looked defiant, " Putyayka is one of the purest warriors I have ever trained, frankly she has an aptitude and commitment, that Viryay... is somewhat lacking."

Kardaz sighed, " She is only 12 years old, how can you say that."

Vechkas continued stubbornly, " I have seen her spirit her whole life."

Kardaz finally nodded, " So have I... Alright we will change the inheritance law.. Unless one of our other councilors has any objection." A quick glance showed no protest.

 
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Well that is a rather interesting development
 
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770 - Crime and Punishment

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770 - Crime and Punishment

Orunza was surprised to find the High Chief waiting for him in his rooms.

"Can I help you with something, my Chief?

"I was wrong about you, Orunza. You are not as incompetent as I thought." Kardaz was nervous, not sure how Orunza would react to what was coming, but he felt better as soon as he saw the two guards appear silently at the doorway as planned.

"Incompetent? I don't understand..."

"About the smugglers."

Orunza blanched.

"You weren't incompetent, Orunza. You were corrupt."

"Kardaz! I swear .. I did nothing!"

"I saw them pay you off with my own eyes ... two nights ago ..at the tavern."

Orunza's further protests died on his lips, and he sagged against his desk.

Kardaz, looked at the two guards who had come in behind Orunza, relieved that the encounter had not turned physical, "Arrest him, I will deal with him later."




**********************

A week later, Karzad convened his court to pass sentence on Orunza. The Tribal Council, including the new Steward Kardaz had found and invited to his court named Paksyut Paksyutid, were present along with the other important men and woman of the five tribes. They were all gathered at the longhouse in the village of the Merya Tribe.



Orunza was brought forward, his head and arms bound to a wooden yoke, with a hobble connecting his ankles. He shuffled forward into the light of the council fire and was knocked to his knees by one of his escorts.

Kardaz stood up from his high seat and addressed Orunza, " Orunza of the Merya tribe, you have been found guilty of theft and corruption and abuse of your office as Steward. Some here have called for your death, claiming the smuggler operations impacted the preparations for winter throughout the tribes, which could have resulted in deaths of innocents, of children and our elders. But while your actions put lives at risk, no one has died due to you actions, so I will not condemn you to death."

Orunza seemed to relax at that news, though the yoke and hobble didn't allow him to get comfortable.

Kardaz continued, "Some wanted to sacrifice you to the ancestors, but I think you soul would be an unworthy sacrifice, and perhaps even anger the gods. Others wanted to cut off your hands to mark you as a thief, but I find that crueler than killing you. "

The crowd began to get restless , hearing all their ideas dismissed. Kardaz held up his hand to still the whispers.

"Orunza, all your goods, lands, and possessions are hereby confiscated, and you are banished from the lands of the five tribes of Merya. You will be escorted to the tribal boundaries and are forbidden to return. Take him away and prepare him for his journey."



Orunza began to protest as the guards started to drag him away, "You can't take everything!! All I took was some coin to look the other way and delay discovery of the theft, I never stole anything! You are stealing from me!"

"Wait!" Kardaz shouted. All eyes turned toward him, the guards turned Orunza so he was facing Kardaz again.

"Very well, I am not a thief. You will be compensated for the goods being taken. You will receive one load of lumber, similar in size to one of the loads the smugglers took." The crowd began to grumble at this generosity as Orunza seemed to be doing calculations in his head. But Kardaz continued, " That load of wood will be delivered to the shores of the Volga at the downstream boundary of our tribal lands and fashioned into a raft. When the spring thaw frees the waters of the Volga from the ice, the prisoner will be bound to the raft and it will be cast into the river, at the mercy of the currents and the gods. Orunza, I'm sure a steward of your caliber will have no problem selling the wood wherever you wash ashore and then you can start a new life. Just don't return here."

Orunza stared at Kardaz in horror and began to cry out , "I'm sorry .. I'm sorry.. you didn't steal.. you owe me nothing.." as the guards dragged him away.

(Note: Orunza would eventually wash up on shore in Cheremisa over 250 miles downstream of Merya, suffering from overexposure and raving about the mercy of currents and gods. The High Chief of Cheremisa decided Orunza had been touched by the gods and made him the court Diviner of Cheremisa.)




................

With that business concluded, Kardaz settled down to deal with any petitioners that wanted to bring matters before the High Chief. He spent the next hour hearing complaints from people claiming to have been cheated in a trade, a trapper accusing another of poaching his trapline, and some drunks claiming a tavern owner was watering down his mead.

As he wrapped up the final petitioner, another man stepped to the Council fire. Kardaz immediately recognized the bearskin cloak signifying a Hero of the Followers of Otso.

“Welcome, brother!” He called out as he moved forward to greet the Hero, hoping to impress his people with his new familiarity with the fabled warrior society.

“Ah, there you are Fledgling Kardaz. I am Chief Ylle of Saaremaa.” Kardaz winced at being called a fledgling in his own hall, but kept his smile on his face.

“Bring our guest food and drink”

“I thank you, but I will not be staying long. I have just come to bring you your first task as a new member of the Order.” Kardaz stopped in shock. Task? He thought. He had joined the followers to placate his people’s fears that he wasn’t a warrior. He enjoyed spending nights at the local Lodge in telling tall tales and drinking heavily, but he had not planned on taking on any of their so called quests.

But here in the middle of his own Lodge, surrounded by his people, he was being put on the spot.

“What do the Followers of Otso require of me,“ he replied theatrically.

“Because of your position in the world, outside of the Lodge, you are uniquely qualified to take on this task. Most Fledgling’s are given simpler tasks, slay some bandit, track down a murderer, or kill some foul beast. But you are the High Chief of the Merya and you have the power to take on bigger tasks.”

Kardaz was not liking the sound of this at all, something more dangerous that hunting down criminals or wild animals.

“The Followers of Otso are a warrior society serving the Suomenusko gods and we must fight against those who would attack our faith, the Tengri, the Christians, the Romuva, and the Slavs.”

Kardaz saw where this was going as a knot of fear grew in his belly. Of all those named, only the Slavs bordered Merya. The Followers of Otso wanted him to start a war.

“The Followers of Otso want your pledge to lead a war of conquest against the High Chief Rodislav of Ilmenia and take the Borovichi lands away from him, and show the world the strength of the Suomenusko peoples.”

The longhouse went quiet, and Kardaz belatedly realized the Hero was done speaking and everyone was waiting his response. If they had been alone, he would have tried to talk the Hero out of this crazy idea, or found some way to decline or avoid making any promises, but here in front of his Councilors and tribe he couldn’t show any signs of cowardice.

“Of course I will lead my people against the enemies of all Suomenusko peoples.”



The crowd cheered and the Hero smiled. And Kardaz thought about 20 years of peace and prosperity, all gone now that the Followers of Otso wanted him to start a war to show who had the stronger gods. Maybe joining this warrior society had not been such a great idea.
 
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When I notice raving moustachioed men strapped to planks floating by in the river, I too make them my Court Diviner. It's the natural thing to do.

Sidenote: Three lustful (soon-to-be) teens, and Putyayka looks like she'll be joining Viryay on his peeping missions. Your court will certainly not lack for children in the future :D
 
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Ah well, all's well that ends well
 
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When I notice raving moustachioed men strapped to planks floating by in the river, I too make them my Court Diviner. It's the natural thing to do.

Sidenote: Three lustful (soon-to-be) teens, and Putyayka looks like she'll be joining Viryay on his peeping missions. Your court will certainly not lack for children in the future :D
Ah well, all's well that ends well
Orunza landed on his feet after his involuntary river cruise. He certainly had more talent to b a Diviner than a Steward.

I actually thought about having Putyayka joining Viryay, but I figured she is more committed to becoming a warrior and would never skip a lesson, plus her lust is more for battle than for the flesh.
 
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770-771 - The Art of Procrastination

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770-771 - The Art of Procrastination

Kardaz stalled as long as he could, throwing out many excuses to avoid starting the war against the Ilmenians. First he had said no one starts a war in the middle of winter, they should wait for the spring.

In the spring, his wife Tundava became pregnant (their love life still energized by his new warrior status) and he said it had been 10 years since she had carried a child, he couldn't abandon her at a time like this and had to make sure she made it through her pregnancy alright. So any thought of war was forestalled for another 9 months as Merya waited on the High Chief's child.



In the end Tundava gave birth to a son, who was named Moksha. Kardaz rejoiced, but realized another son would complicate the inheritance.



In the meantime he had told his steward, Paksyut Paksyutid to work on building up the Legend of Kardaz in hopes of attracting more warriors to help in the upcoming war. They would need more men before they were ready to march.

After that, Kardaz himself become ill, first with a fever, and then when fatigue and pain in his feet, which turned out to be the first signs of gout. His treatment pushed back the war again.



Finally, he even joined another war, to avoid starting his own.



High Chief Parush of Meshchera, his southern neighbor and fellow fledgling in the Followers of Otso asked for help dealing with a peasant revolt. Kardaz eagerly agreed, fighting peasants seemed much safer than fighting Slavic warriors. Kardaz was careful to only agree to help with the peasant revolt. Parush was fighting another war against one of the nomad tribes to the south, and Kardaz wanted no part of those devils.



So Kardaz gathered almost a thousand warriors from the Merya tribes and headed south toward Meshchera. The Meryan tribes first full scale battle in over 20 years did not go well. Karadaz and his men attacked the larger rebel army at Naro-Fominsk. Karadaz had not been worried about their greater numbers, figuring they're just peasants; failing to realize his army was mostly made up of very similar peasants. The attack was beaten back, with Merya losing 200 men and retreating north to Torzhok.



Their defeat made Kardaz even more committed to avoiding another war as long as possible, his troops needed more practice before they were ready to take on the Slavs. It would be over two months before they began advancing much more cautiously into Meshchera. The rebels had captured Naro-Fominsk after their victory and had gone on to capture Mozhaysk. Now, scouts reported that High Chief Parush's army had caught up with the rebels outside of Mozhaysk. The two armies were evenly matched, neither yet having a clear advantage. Kardaz was ecstatic, after their humiliating defeat in Naro-Fominsk, they now had the chance to be big damn heroes. So they raced south to join the battle.



The sudden influx of additional 700 warriors was more than enough to turn a close fight into a clear victory. The rebels were beaten and Kardaz and the Merya were the heroes of the hour. Within a week of the victory all the rebels forces had surrendered or scattered and returned home and the war was over.




Well that war anyway, the High Chief Volodar of Vyatichia was now attacking Meshchera, but Kardaz had not signed on for that and took his troops home.

(Note: Within a year, Vyatichia would complete the subjugation of Meshchera, putting these Suomenusko lands under Slavic rule. Volodar himself would not see that victory as he was killed while slaying a giant, a Meshcheran warrior named Paksyay.)




By the time Kardaz returned to Merya, he was already formulating new excuses to postpone attacking the Ilmenians, mainly revolving around letting his people recuperate and rebuild their strength following the war in Meshchera. But his Diviner Kichay's efforts put paid to that excuse when his lively sermons raised 300 zealots eager to fight in a holy war.



With no excuse about manpower and 300 eager young men camped around his capitol eating him out of house and home, Kardaz gave in and announced in midwinter that Merya was going to war. An envoy was sent to High Chief Rodislav informing him he was now at war with the Merya over Borovichi.
 
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A healthy son is born but the even healthier victory is sure to make Kardaz relish in the attention he's receiving
 
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