The Return of the White Deer- Chapter 13
A new-school fantasy novel based on my Crunalan society of the Dragon Empire setting and various historical characters whose stories have been mangled up by the author's imagination. Most critical readers welcomed!
The party packed up efficiently and left the Yorgus in the middle of the night without any adventures. No mishap befell them as they made their planned detour around the Dale of Luugas. Yet, the wariness that had seeped into their minds and permeated into their bones as a result of the affair with the mysterious man and his thought-stone dissipated at the pace of a sluggish torrent. It clung to them like a stubborn coat of grime, falling off their beings one speck at a time.
Astride Bashudai, Bortai was occupied by thoughts of their destination ahead. Borochu had notified them that they would soon arrive at the main Camp of the Neermus, which was the first tribe besides her own which she found bore resemblance to the tribe names of her previous life as a Mongol. And it was the name of a tribe that would become one of the major rivals for Temujin. However, since the Crunalan society on this world was clearly not identical to the Mongolian one she remembered from her first incarnation (the first that she could remember at any rate), she could not be certain that this would be the tribe that they would be stopping at next. Hence, she was more curious than alarmed by the upcoming encounter.
Ahead, she could already see the gers of the Neermu camp, which were resplendent in myriad shades of gold and heavily decorated with ornaments that sparkled in the sun. A fitting abode for their old nemesis Nalan Khan, whose name meant Sun in Mongolian, if this was really his territory.
As at the Yorgus, Bortai and her companions was invited into the chieftain's ger to converse. There they met the chieftain and his two advisors who happened to have come to pay the chief a social call (otherwise, the Crunalan custom would have the three of them gathered in the Chief's ger on more formal business). It was so long ago that Bortai could not quite remember whether these two were the same individuals as their counterparts in her Mongolian life. However, she had the impression that they both were practical and good loyal men. It was a pity that they were supporters of Temujin's foe and came to a bad end as a consequence. Prompted by this thought, Bortai considered these two men at some detail. Both were rather plain- both had average height, the latent strength of Crunalan men in ample and dressed in the same earthen tone. The only difference she noted was that one seemed neater or more careful in behaviour than the other with his clothes bearing less signs of mending. It was small wonder that she could not recall them in a physical way if their Mongolian counterparts had identical looks. Anyway, it tallied with her broad impression of them.
Nalan Khan was exactly as she remembered him: a man of indeterminate age with a golden complexion and a good natured face. Little would anyone guess that underlying the man would be such a strong love of prestige that it permeated across aspects ranging from his taste for grandiosity and glamour, his peacock-like propensity for flaunting to his unmoving stubbornness to never be another's subordinate regardless of the larger consequences. To be fair to the man, the last point about him would not have been a problem under other circumstances. He was not a bad leader at all. True to his looks, he was good natured as a person, well loved within his own tribe and open-minded enough to work with his advisors to build a prosperous tribe. As a strategist, he was also adept. He had natural cunning and patience in plenty, having an uncanny ability to wait for the best chance to strike at his enemies. It was simply that he had no greater vision to lead to improve the welfare of his people outside of his own gain in status, rendering him somewhat unsuitable for ruling over more than his own tribe. Although he had turned out to be a somewhat main obstacle to Temujin's unification of the Mongols purely because of the wealth he had gathered for his tribe, Bortai was not particularly worried about him as a foe. Compared to the long and bitter campaign that Temujin had waged against the Tatars, the conflict with the Neermus seemed pale in comparison. Also, as of currently, there was no reason for Nalan Khan to show animosity against them. That would come much later. There was no reason to fret over a none-too-stringent conflict not to come for years.
'Welcome to the tribe of Neermu, the home of Nalan Khan the descendant of Batachikan! Be at ease, my children!' Nalan Khan said in a warm tone. That drew an amused smile from Bortai which she hid deftly. Only Nalan Khan would care to add that last part about the descendant of Batachikan, as if he alone of all of the Crunalan could trace his blood back to one of the off-springs of the Grey Wolf and the White Deer. It was true that Batachikan was the first born and took precedence over his younger siblings. But it was not like the Crunalans, much akin to the Mongolians, believed that a superior bloodline was the ultimate factor in determining a person's worth. A superior sword is not forged through better iron but better forging, as her Khan-father had taught Bacquder.
As customary, the pedigree keepers were summoned but this time no distant kinship was unearthed by them. Nevertheless, the group talked amiably of many innocuous gossips with their hosts without revealing aught that should not be spoken about. After the encounter at the Yorgus, they had coached Borochu extensively on what ought to be talked about in front of strangers and what oughtn't. He learnt fast despite his loquacious nature.
In this way, Bortai found herself quickly bored. Then, a passing remark by Nalan Khan caught her attention. 'It is never any good to be snagged with the Morghanan, nor even to make guesses of them. Many of those travelling merchants made that mistake. With the announcement that the Morghanan have chosen to come between the Ankalis and the Tatars, those men that were forever hungry for copper disks have thought that the Morghanan would need lots of food. So what do they do? They bring bags and bags of staples, of rice, wheat, corn and all the other types. They think to sell these at high prices. But what do the Morghanan say to the merchants? We need them not, bring them back, that was what they said. Hah, I've never seen those merchants' faces turn so. All smiles and tallying in their faces, that I was used to. But faces white and with moist dropping off their foreheads? The like of which I have never seen before, not on theirs nor any others.'
The news set Bortai spinning in wild circles. What truly is the meaning of this? If the Morghanan truly intended to ally with the Tatars, surely they would not have turned back the travelling merchants so utterly. It was true that many hold the view that the Morghanan are capable of anything but Bortai thought this view ridiculous to say the least. At any rate, Bortai could not believe their reputed abilities included being able to conjure food at such a grand scale within such a short period of time. Even with pre-meditation, it just seemed far-fetched to Bortai. On the other hand, if they had some trickery planned for the Tatars... no, why would they, or rather why have they chosen not to keep to themselves as they have always done? Rather than soothed, Bortai was troubled by this news with a seemingly positive turn for them, more troubled than she would care to admit to herself.
'What do you think of the man?' Temujin made a cautious opening that added to the weight on Bortai's heart. He spoke in a whisper but it was loud enough for all to hear since he had gotten them to sit so close together in a ring that all their knees were ploughing into each other. 'I think Uncle Yesu was right in his warning. I did not like the man.' Borochu replied with a solemn expression seldom seen on his face. Nergei merely nodded.
'What are you three talking about?' Bortai was genuinely puzzled.
'Khan-father had warned us about the Neermu, especially about their chieftain. The two were not on friendly terms. That was why we were cautious at the Chieft's Ger.' Temujin informed his betrothed.
Bortai was dumbfounded. She had thought their behaviour was merely the aftermath of their adventure with the thought-stone. Instead, it was upon Yesegei Khan's prior warning that they had acted so. Bortai chided herself for invariably letting down her guard on encountering personnel that she had known in her previous life, acting solely upon the knowledge she had back then. She had never known that their fraction with Nalan Khan had its roots in other than the inevitable conflict that arise whenever an obstacle arises for Temujin's vision of unification for the Mongols. But then Yesegei Khan in that alternate life of hers would have died by now. That raised her caution to a higher level than before. Who knows what series of changes have arisen in this world just because of that single difference of Yesegei Khan still being alive? It would not do for her to make choices and act purely on what she knew to be true of her other life. Cold dread touched her heart when she thought about what disastrous mistakes she could have committed if she had not come awake with the realisation that she had made just now.
'Did Yesegei Khan specify how they have fallen foul of each other?' Bortai enquired. It did not pertain to their main concern but Bortai felt that it would be prudent for her to gather as much information as she could on any possible discrepancies between the worlds that she had lived in and the one she is in now. It was mostly intuition but she had seldom been tricked by it, unless she chose to trick herself.
Temujin shook his head. Jelme shrugged, 'It was a minor tussle really. I cannot remember the details now but I think it was a chance remark by Yesegei. He was brutally honest in those days of his youth, still is quite so if you ask me. And you've all seen for yourselves the ego of that man.'
Bortai had an odd feeling that Jelme was holding something back. The image Jelme painted of Nalan Khan departed from the view she had formed of him. She did not think it in character for Nalan Khan to hold a grudge for something as innocuous as a chance remark, however brutally honest it was unless it struck at a place deep within him. Acting upon an impulse, she raised the possibility, 'May it be that the remark struck at where it was still tender and raw within him?'
Jelme looked surreptitiously towards Temujin. Besides Muwali, all were puzzled by the implied linkage between Temujin and what Jelme was saying about the two Khans of their respective tribes. That only made them more eager to hear the true account about the dispute between the two men. Jelme coughed in embarrassment while Muwali laughed lightly. 'There are some things that we find embarrassing to recount to the young,' Muwali offered by way of explanation, 'especially if it involves the folly of one's own youth.' He glanced over to Jelme to emphasise to whom the latter part of his sentence was referring to.
Jelme glared at him but then shrugged, 'You can tell the story since you were not involved in this... what you dub as youthful folly.'
'So I shall. Well, there is not much complication to it. A spurned lover and the brother of the woman who spurned him, that is basically how he stands in relation to our own Yesegei Khan.'
'You mean Aunt Odega?' Temujin vaguely remembered that he had an aunt who married into the Jatalin which was a tribe far northern of them but he had never got to know her, her being married off before he was even born.
'No, your other aunt. She was always a queer one and she was as spirited as they come. She had many admirers,' Muwali took a pause to pay Jelme brief scrutiny, 'and he was certainly one of the most ardent ones. Who knows why she decided on her choice then but somehow he was convinced that it was because of a chance remark that Yesegei had made about him that belittled him in her eyes. I don't think Yesegei could even remember the incident now but he had never trusted that other man. I think that was the main reason why Temujin was warned about him.'
Bortai nodded. That was more characteristic of Nalan Khan. It was not the rejection itself that he begrudged but what he thought of as the loss of standing in the eyes of his love that Yesegei's remark had caused. Still, Bortai did not think he would carry the grudge across generations. However, it did pay to be wary around one as shrewd as Nalan Khan.
Bortai was pleased when her thought was perfectly echoed in Temujin's words, 'No harm in staying cautious.'
To this, all nodded.
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? Responses (5)
The ambush is not forgotten, just hanging until a more proper place for it to have greater effect, that was the plan anyway. As for Execution, that's a whole different story....
This is also the last of the complete Chapters that I've written. I'm currently writing Chap 15, having skipped over the last scene of Chap 14. Please advise whether I should post up an incomplete Chap 14.
I enjoyed this chapter. I found the description of to be Nalan Kahn to entertaining and clear. I found a lot of the discussion about what future Botari can expect was interesting. Lines like 'There was no reason to fret over a none-too-stringent conflict not to come for years.'
It is very interesting that these she is looking at all these things both backwards and forwards. But what does Botari want for the future?
Ah, again you have hit the nail on the head. To be honest, I'm finding that I might have gotten Bortai's future wants a bit muddled. I've told you how I write by subconscious and at first as I wrote it Bortai just picture having another happy life with Temujin, that was back in Chap 9 when she first recovered her memories. Then in subsequent chapters as they 'adventure' together on the Steppe, Bortai had a vague sense that she wants to help with his unification of Mongols/Crunalans (I need to go back and read previous Chaps to confirm whether I got this across, I did not have character motivation really pegged down from section to section when I was planning for the book, character motivation in initial planning was one-liners in dot-point form supplanted with a 10 by 10 character grid, it seems that I've overplanned for events and plots and underplanned for characters). Now (as of end of Chap 15, I'm currently at the start of Chap 16 and a little stuck) I have Bortai a little torn over what she wants.
I will post up incomplete Chap 14 (I skipped over the last big action sequence b/c I felt I'm hopeless at action scenes in the first place and second b/c this crazy woman decided to write a big Mongolian wrestling scene totally out of her element so just procrastinating basically) shortly. Thinking that I will leave the skipped part for the end, found link to Mongolian wrestling match online but procrastinating and haven't watched it yet. Anyway, this wrestling sequence doesn't affect the story much, mostly character development for Temujin. I played with removing it entirely but after sketching out the events, plots and side-plots of this book on palm cards, decided to keep it as it is a good conflict scene. Just thought I will mention this.
I haven't noticed any problem with your action sequences. Thus far you have only had Botari's chase with kidnappers, and I thought you handled that well.
My advice for what to write next is to put in a complete mini-arc. You have your group together, and it seems to be that you are shooting for the classical-on the road-fantasy story. During the complete mini-arc you can continue your over arching story, but put in some conflict that gets slaughtered, cooked and devoured.
Let us say it is a wrestling Mini-arc
1) Temujin and gang meets a guy that has been and is a social and physical rival to Temujin. Botari remembers him from her past life, remembers how her Temujin told her a story that this rival was arrogant and distrustful of him until Temujin beat him in a wrestling match.2) The guys is disruptive to the group, he and Borochu get into a little scuffle. Temujin breaks it up and tries to talk it out.
3) Borochu gets huffy and Botari thinks Temujin is handeling things wrong. HE IS NOT DEALING WITH THINGS THE WAY HER TEMUJIN WOULD HAVE.
4) She encourages Temujin to challenge the rival to a match, she is confident he will win and that this will improve Temujin's relationship with this man.
5) Temujin loses the match and Botari, as a result is filled with doubt. Temujin is humiliated and no doubts Botari's advice. Botari now doubts whether not her intervention was helpful. She wonders who this new young Temujin is really? She wonders if her old Temujin was telling the truth when he described beating this man in a wrestling match or was it just the tall tales of a proud man? Losing in a wrestling match also might make his tribe look week.
Here you would have a whole arc. There is a conflict, there is a build up, there is a resolution, all these steps relate to the larger plot points but do not define them. But keep the focus centered on this mini-arc for a while. You haven't kept things on focused on any sub-plot points thus far.
This chapter has nothing to do with the thought stone or the tribe they just left. Try resolving smaller plots as a way of advancing the larger plot.
I am all for wrestling.
In terms of action sequence, I think the problem is mostly self-perceived. As a person, I've forever had a problem with hand-feet coordination and in general anything to do with using my physical body as opposed to my brain. This seems to carry across to writing abt action sequences- whenever I have one coming up, I have a tendency to agonise/procrastinate over it.
Getting back to mini plot-arcs, I've put down 'Have some resolved sub-plot arc rather than having a series of unresolved ones' as one of the editing priorities for 2nd draft. Unfortunately, as I've currently written it, next Chap would start another sub-plot arc with Nalan Khan (well, not him directly but...) that doesn't become resolved until later books (same with the thought-stone sub-plot that doesn't have full resolution until start of book 3). He's the minor villain that I PMed you about. The way I've written things, it's now a little hard to make a complete side-plot with him but there might be hope yet with the wrestling scene as you suggested. Anyway, there you go, crazy plotter again. I shouldn't have aimed to move this from a trilogy to a quintet. I think that's why I kept thinking up these side-plots with resolution miles away (or why they kept plopping into my head) cos that decision (expansion of book number) meant that I'm serious short on plot arcs (I only had the first book fully planned when I made the crazy decision to expand out from a trilogy structure).
Anyway, what's done is done. I will shortly release the next two Chaps and you can tell me your thoughts on how I could rescue this book from becoming a series of meandering unresolved side-plots.