The Council of Silver

The Council of Silver

Sorry for the odd interlude. But when the muse knocks, it’s a good idea to answer.

But here we are! Back to the Wandering Mountains! It started with Child of the Plains and continued in Man of the Mountain, then again in Legends of Old. Here’s the fourth installment!

I got the idea for this particular story during our drive to Calgary. It was my first time passing through the Canadian Rockies and I was stunned by the majesty and diversity of the mountain faces. In fact, the more I looked at them, the more I saw faces. Each mountain looked like it’s own odd creature with its own unique characteristics.

Of course, being a writer, my mind went to work on this idea. Could these faces come from the spirits of the mountains? Or could the mountains be giant sleeping creatures? I actually have a ton of different ideas related to these concepts that might get sprinkled into a couple different fantasy worlds. As for this particular story, I think it might be the prologue for a future series.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think of the series so far!
. . .

The Council of Elders carved a stark contrast compared to the colorful tent in which they met. Here, and only here, were the full riches of the homestead on display for visitors to see. Each craftsman displayed their wares, of course, and each common house made known its specialty. But only in the tent of the elders could one view it all at once. The rich tapestries. The fine weapons. The softest weaves of wool and the finest animal pelts. Even the table was intricately carved, worked by several generations of carpenters until not an inch of it was left without decoration.

The elders themselves were as varied as their surroundings, each of their former crafts easily identified by their clothing. Swidra, the mistress of horses, wore leathers, well broken from years of use and decorated with subtle but elegant embroidery of horses in motion. Ghad, still head of the blacksmiths, dressed in coal grey so that the residue of his work would never be visible against his fine clothing. His long hair, he kept braided tightly against his head so that it could never be singed. On the far side of the table, Polasta, the scout master, wore clothing as green as the grassy plains, her hair decorated with a complicated dapple pattern that would allow her to blend into the natural foliage, though the roots revealed the natural silver of her locks with each inch of new growth.

All of them kept at least part of their plait silver, in fact. For silver was a mark of honor among the plains people. A sign of the wisdom only old age and experience could bring. Ylyea was at least two decades away from her first distinctive strands, but she hoped one day to sit among such esteemed company. The Council of Silver they were sometimes called. Their collective wisdom guided the homesteaders through good times and bad, though no one had yet determined which these days would prove to be.

Ylyea had already passed her samples on to the shaman, Musuuk, along with a few scribbled notes the old man of the mountain had gifted her before her departure. A guide, he said, to the herbs they would find most useful during their initial days of exploration. She expected it included a list of poisonous plants to be avoided, so that they would not have to suffer deaths to gain the knowledge. If they wanted a full understanding of what the mountains held, they would have to gain it themselves. The old man’s price would prove too high otherwise. At least until the Summer Caravan made its way to the city and back.

Now she passed a pair of hastily, but carefully, copied maps across the table, each carved onto a scrap of hide. Real paper maps would have to come later, when they had a chance to organize their newly gained information and the cartographers had time to work their craft upon the most expensive of their resources. Paper was hard enough to come by; they couldn’t afford to waste the large sheets they would need to map this new world.

For all of this, Ylyea had promised the old man a bundle of plains herbs to add to his collection, a newly woven wool blanket from their finest of the year’s harvest and a bundle of dried meat, which he claimed had been hard to come by where his mountains last inhabited.

Each of the elders pursed their lips when she told them this, but none of them questioned the value of the deal. Perhaps they could tell from the dark look in her eyes that she had paid a far higher personal price to the old man for what she had gained, though she had not yet related that portion of the discussion.

“I have already given the first set of copies to the caravan,” she explained as the scraps made their way around the council table. Each elder looked at the markings, a thoughtful look crossing their face, before they passed it on. Some dared to trace their fingers across a few of the peaks, but none spoke about the depicted features.

“According to the old man, it will allow them to cross the mountains in two weeks. He advised against moving faster, since we are unfamiliar with mountain terrain and the obstacles likely to spring up in our path. I have spoken at length with the drivers and approved their departure. I hope you will forgive me, but we cannot afford to wait longer than we already have.”

The first day had been consumed by her journey with Ruger to the old man’s hut and back. It had taken most of the second day to copy the maps and refit the wagons. With the journey extended to nearly three times its original length, the traders would need every  moment of daylight available to them, so Ylyea had set them moving at dawn this very morning. She only hoped they had solved the problem of the mountains more quickly than their city cousins.

How many mountain sages were there, after all? The whole of the plains had only two before the mountains came, and Ylyea wondered if one of them hadn’t fled along with the giants who passed in the night.

“Rest assured, Ylyea, no one will question your decision about the caravan,” Swidra spoke, eyeing the few elders who looked ready to do just that. “No one can argue that getting supplies from the city is of paramount importance if we are to survive the winter.”

“We do not even know how the presence of the mountains will change the weather,” Ghad agreed, laying one of his massive, calloused hands on the table in front of him. “For all we know, we will face far more snow and chill than ever before. We must be prepared to shelter against the worst winter storms, or we may be ruined before the next caravan leaves.”

“Aye, the patterns of the world will be unpredictable to us for some time,” Musuuk mused, his ancient voice crackling with each word. “It may take years of study before we grow accustomed to valley living.”

Valley living. The idea still chafed. Where would their herds roam now? Their little pens would soon grow too confining. The clans would have to decide whether or not to cull them or make the dangerous journey over the mountain passes. The goats were likely to fare well on the passes, but the horses and cattle? Ylyea had her doubts.

“It is the matter of the mountains that concerns us now,” Polasta announced, her lips drawn into a grim line that carved wrinkles all across the base of her face. “Are you sure there is no way to move them?”

Ylyea bowed her head. “The old man said we dare not ask. It would anger the mountain spirits. And once angered, they are slow to forgive.”

“That is ever the way of spirits,” Musuuk interjected, folding his hands into the depths of his flowing sleeves. “We must play by the rules they establish or they will hold little care for our hopes and desires. If we appease them early, we may be able to benefit from future arrangements.”

“Is this your belief?” Polasta asked, turning her gaze back to Ylyea. She had piercing blue eyes, green as the grass outside, but Ylyea had long since learned that the truthful had nothing to fear from Polasta’s gaze.

“If the old man spoke truth to me, yes. He was surely a sage, and we all know the way of sages. But I do not see what reason he would have to lie. He claimed we may be able to expand the mountain paths so that our caravans might more easily pass. Instead of chopping down the trees and packing the ground, the mountains may assist us, if we offer them something in return.”

“What does one offer a mountain?” Swidra asked, mystified.

“I do not know,” Ylyea admitted, a hint of a sad smile brushing her lips. “I think we will have to wait and see what they say.”

“A better question might be whether or not the price they ask is worth the sacrifice,” Musuuk muttered, causing many of the other elders to shift uncomfortably in their chairs. “Are you certain you mean to undertake this task, Yly? Another could be chosen.”

“The price they would have to pay for the knowledge would be unfair. Especially since I have already concluded the trade,” she insisted without hesitation. Once Ylyea made up her mind to do something, she became as immovable as the mountains outside. The Silver Council knew this well, though many of their eyes grew sad when they turned them upon her. “Besides, I think the mountains will prove more reasonable that we imagine. The old man said they are clanspeople, just as we are. If we speak to them as brothers and sisters of purpose, they will surely greet us as such. If we are wise, and kind, the old man suggested the mountains might shuffle their configuration to accommodate us. It would likely gain us only a couple extra miles of grassland, but that might be enough to suit the herds.”

This set off a round of debate across the table. Recognizing a discussion among the council, Ylyea took three steps back. If the elders wished for more information, they would call her forward. Probably they wished to determine what they could safely ask of the mountain. Then Ylyea would carry it to the heart of the great peak, as the old man had instructed.

She was ready to make any sacrifice for her people. Survival was paramount. If they were to thrive, they must first live. And if they learned the secret to mountain survival, they could carry it to their cousins in the other homesteads. From there, word would spread to the city and the king.

They would have to act quickly to preserve their traditions if they were to come out the other side of the mountain wanderings as plains people again. Ylyea wished for nothing so much as she wished for this. The plains people had been proud and clever. They had mastered the rolling grasslands and the creatures that lived upon it. They knew the shape of the winds and the fury of the storms. They knew the fruits of the earth and the stories of the sky.

She would not let the plains people lose their hearts to the mountains, even if the mountains were to be part of their lives and traditions for centuries to come.

“Where is Ruger?” Ghad’s deep, booming question startled Ylyea back to the moment.

“I haven’t seen him since our return,” Ylyea admitted, after a moment to consider the question.

“Should he not be here?” the blacksmith demanded. “If he also spoke to this old man, he must have some opinion on what course we should take.”

Ylyea lifted both hands helplessly in front of her. “Ruger rode the last herding circuit before the mountains arrived, Elder. I assume he hurried home for a much needed rest after the flurry of activity. I could have him summoned, if you like.”

The elders glanced across the table at each other before several of them nodded.

“We will send a messenger,” Swidra announced, flicking her wrist toward one of the guards near the door. “Your input is too valuable to lose.”

With that, the council returned to their conversation. Ylyea waited quietly on the edge of the fine rug on which their table sat, waiting to be consulted further. Ultimately, she thought there was little to be said. The mountains held all the power over this negotiation. Until someone spoke with them, everything said about the exchange would be a guess.

When the first rumble rippled through the council tent, Ylyea thought it heralded a storm. It wasn’t unusual for lightning and thunder to tear through the homestead during the summer months. But it was ill luck, with their caravan so recently departed. Perhaps the thick canopy of the forest would offer them shelter. But if the horses shied on one of the narrow passes, the results could be catastrophic.

The second rumble shook the ground, causing everyone at the table to grasp its polished edges for stability. Ylyea threw her hands to the side and took a half-step backward. Had the earthshake proved violent, she would no doubt have fallen. But it was gentle enough she found balance to ride out the disturbance.

“What the-” one of the elders began, but was quickly cut off by a far more violent quake.

This time, Ylyea fell to her knees, bracing herself against the packed earth floor of the tent. The canvas and tapestries seemed to sway around her, a great swirl of color, threatening to swallow everyone inside.

The quake lasted for what felt like ages, the sound of its fury so loud it left a ringing in her ears long after it cleared. When the shaking subsided, she found several of the Silver Council on the ground with her. Those who reached their feet first extended hands to help the others up.

Blinking, Ylyea found Ghad’s hand hovering close to her face. She accepted it, pulling herself quickly to her feet, then darted toward the exit without waiting. Even in old age, Ghad had no difficulty keeping up with her. In fact, he shouldered his way through the growing crowd, making a path for them.

All eyes outside were turned to the sky, to the line of mountains on the horizon. Everyone was more concerned with the fury of the titans than what buildings may have fallen to the damage. For there could be no doubt the shakes had come from their new guests – soon to be considered their conquerors if things continued in this vein.

For a moment, Ylyea could think of nothing but the caravan she sent into the mountains early that morning. Where were they when the ground started to shake? Were their horses and wagons pinned beneath toppled trees now? The plains had never shaken like this before; no one could have been prepared for it.

But it could not have been a normal part of living near the mountains. If it were, she felt certain the old man would have included it in the information they bartered for. And what had happened to him when the ground began to shake? What of his small hut in the middle of its clearing? Or had the mountains spared him for his long years of service?

The growing volume of the exclamations surrounding her drew her gaze back to the horizon. But that was not where truth was revealed. Rather, it was the base of the mountains that displayed the results of their shift.

They had come closer, shrinking the blanket of green that surrounded the homestead, trapping them deeper within the range’s grasp.

But why? What could they have done to warrant such punishment? Surely the trade caravan should have been welcome to pass. And Ylyea could not imagine what they might have done to anger the titans.

Ghad squeezed her shoulder with a gentleness that seemed impossible for such meaty hands. “By the old man’s directions, how long would it take to reach the place where you might commune with the heart of the mountains?” he asked, his voice a low rumble amid the clan’s worried buzz.

Ylyea performed a few quick calculations before shaking her head. “Perhaps three days if you rode day and night, but-“

“I have spoken with our messenger,” Polasta announced as she joined the conversation. “It seems no one has seen Ruger since his return.” Her eyes fell on Ylyea. Then, as one, the three of them turned their gaze back to the mountains.

“Ruger,” Ylyea hissed his name like the most vile of curses. What have you done?

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