Mysteries of Golarion
Mal and Mountain's Fang at the Magnimar Shoanti Camp
Sky Reaver’s defense of the lost Shoanti is unexpected, but he isn’t exaggerating when he claims their tribe of Shiikirri-quah still remembers their traditions.
Months on the road melt away as Mountain’s Fang joins in songs of the hawk, horse marching chants, and exchanging stories of battling orcs and giants, both ancestral and first-hand. It’s like she never left home! Remembering the curse Roars with Thunder is seeking to cure, she carefully avoids referring to him, aside from brief nameless references as her cousin. She beams as Mal shares his tales of the battles around Sandpoint, and her people cheer him on.
He does speak our language beautifully!
She’s caught up in the triumph of Shalelu’s rescue when she proudly announced Mal’s Shoanti honorific, Shadow Wing, to the others at the fire. He’d certainly earned it that day! It was unlikely she could have kept Shalelu alive alone, and those strange wings were what got him in position at the vital moment.
Sky Reaver is right, though. I have overstepped myself in declaring this honour without the acceptance of my tribe. But “cursed” is not a proper name!
They stay at the fire a while longer, but the spell is broken and Mountain’s Fang is distracted and withdrawn. She finally catches Mal’s eye and indicates to Sky Reaver that they must retire, thanking him again for the honour of the warpaint. He picks out one of the older boys, who eagerly leads the way to a small yurt before scampering back to the fires.
Mountain’s Fang blinks at the yurt and takes a startled step after the boy before stopping.
Two can sleep comfortably here, and we camped at Thistletop. How is this any different? But it is… isn’t it?
Blushing in the dim light, Mountain’s Fang finally turns as Mal approaches. Heart pounding, she smiles and touches his arm lightly.
“I don’t know if you understand how greatly you honoured this tribe with your gift, Shadow Wing. Your horse!”
She lifts the flap of the yurt open for Mal to enter, torchlight spilling out.
Mal watches Mountain’s Fang as she sings and dances with her people, free and unabashed. He has always found her striking but here, at her ease and absent her customary wariness, he is astonished at how truly beautiful she is. As he sits by the fire swapping tales and joining in the reverie, Mal steals glances at her and is pleased to find more often than not she is doing likewise.
There is something about this night, here in this place where her world and mine touch. Something special. We’re at a crossroads, both of us. The first steps of whatever path we are to walk in the future are taken here.
Mountain’s Fang is telling the tale of Shalelu’s rescue at the Temple of the Bat. In the Shoanti tradition, she brags not of her own achievements but those of another: him. Seeing his actions though her eyes he can, for a moment at least, almost believe he is a hero but he feels not pride but shame. Shame for how childish he has acted in the past. Shame for using that girl Shayliss. Shame that Mountain’s Fang witnessed his deplorable selfishness.
Mal glances up at the half-moon, split down the centre. He can’t at the moment recall if it is waxing or waning, growing toward the light or away from it.
Half in darkness, half in light…
He is roused from his thoughts by hearing his name – Shadow Wing – the Shoanti honourific granted him by Mountain’s Fang. Sky Reaver is castigating Mountain’s Fang for the impetuous act. Few notice the exchange and fewer still note the change in her demeanor, but Mal knows Mountain’s Fang’s moods better than they. The joy has gone out of her.
They stay at the fire a while longer but the spell is broken and Mountain’s Fang is distracted and withdrawn. She finally catches Mal’s eye and indicates to Sky Reaver that they must retire, thanking him again for the honour of the warpaint. Mal hikes his pack on his shoulder and grabs his bundled armour, stopping briefly to thank the jothka for the gift and the privilege of being allowed to share the tribe’s camp.
Mal moves off after Mountain’s Fang, passing by the boy who had lead her away as he scampers back to the fires. Mal finds her standing by a yurt, looking anxious and a little confused. With his keen night vision he sees her blush in the dim light. She smiles as he approaches, reaches out and touches his arm lightly.
“I don’t know if you understand how greatly you honoured this tribe with your gift, Shadow Wing. Your horse!”
She lifts the flap of the yurt open for Mal to enter. For a moment he hesitates, staring at her face half-lit by the warm light spilling from the open doorway.
Half in darkness, half in light…
He ducks through the opening, she following close behind. They drop their packs, strip out of their travelling clothes, neither wanting to acknowledge there is but a single bed in the yurt. Finally there is nothing left for it. They both stand beside the bed, not quite certain what to say.
Mal reaches into his tunic, pulls out a fist clenched around something hung from a thong about his neck. He hesitates for a moment, afraid of revealing something so intimate, then opens his hand to expose a small bone amulet chased with silver, glinting in the torchlight.
“This is a fragment of the same tusk from which I made your amulet. This silver the same as that which frames it.” He idly turns it over in his hand as he struggles to find the right words. “I made this so that we would always have a connection. When I grow in magical skill I will be able to use this to heal you from afar.”
Letting it fall back against his chest it tugs on a thin silver chain and dislodges a cameo from beneath his tunic, the cameo within which is a picture of Mountain’s Fang.
Mountain’s Fang’s mind reels while she stows her weapons and packs her cloak.
Does Mal think I engineered this, like one of the fallen Shoanti of the city?
She pauses before unbuckling her armor, and notices Mal pulling something from under the neck of his tunic. As he explains its significance, Mountain’s Fang stares at his amulet, and back down to the matching centrepiece of her own.
Nearly a week ago he made that! Before we rescued Shalelu, before he shared the news of what darkness lay in the city… to heal me in some unknown future? It could simply be a battle strategy like the ones Kellus always comes up with, but a plan like that would be shared in advance.
As he drops the boar-tusk amulet, a cameo slips out from beneath his tunic. The cameo that was found in Aldren Foxglove’s twisted collection. Mountain’s Fang reaches out and lifts it gently from his chest.
“I didn’t know you had this.” A smile works across her face as she contemplates it.
I remember seeing him gather the charcoal nudes when he thought I wasn’t looking. That was the first time it crossed my mind that my fascination might be reciprocated, if perhaps crudely.
“I’m happy that you rescued it from that horrible mansion.” She studies his face a moment, heart pounding, but feeling certain for the first time in what seems like ages. Blushing furiously, she leans in close to speak softly. “And I would very much like to have your help with this breastplate.”
Silvery pre-dawn light begins to seep through the seams and doorway of the yurt and Mal can hear the camp stirring to life: a horse wickers, a bucket of water being poured out, a baby cries.
He hadn’t slept, couldn’t. He’d lain awake all night cradling Mountain’s Fang in his arms, relishing the warmth of her body, still in her smallclothes, and listening to the rhythm of her breathing.
He carefully extricates himself, gingerly drawing his arm from beneath her shoulders. She makes a small sound, somewhere between a moan and a sigh, and turns on her back. Mal admires the shape of her body, lean and muscled like a jungle cat, before pulling the blankets up to cover her against the cold.
“Sleep, yawné,” he whispers in Shoanti, kissing her on the forehead. “But find me when you wake.”
She makes the small noise again, a contended purr, and the ghost of a smile plays across her lips.
Will you trust me enough to tell me your true name, share that most intimate secret? Will you ever know how much that would mean?
He dons his trews and pulls on his boots, setting the bone necklace and locket bouncing against his bare chest. It was just over a month since he’d left the city, but a hard month it had been. A roadmap of new scars are scattered across his body, a body honed and sculpted by the rigors of combat. A few weeks ago he was little more than a boy, but now he is a man.
Ducking out the yurt’s doorway he finds the camp already beginning to bustle. He stretches, working out the kinks of the sleepless night and enjoying the bracing sting of the cold autumn air on his skin. His eyes are drawn to the walls of Magnimar, a dark slash across the landscape to the north.
I spent most of my life behind those walls, and yet it was never really my home. Lost in thought his gaze wanders from the walls of the city, across the Shaonti camp, to the yurt where Mountain’s Fang still sleeps. Here, among these tents and these people, I have felt more alive and more at home than ever before in my life.
Sky Reaver makes his morning Walk of the camp, taking the measure of his people and hearing their concerns. It’s an old tradition, one that can fall too easily by the wayside when the tribe settles in one place for too long, but he looks forward to it. Not surprisingly the topic on many minds and tongues this morning is the young warrior Mountain’s Fang and her strange outlander companion.
It was odd watching the two of them around the fire the night before. They were clearly love-bonded, any fool could see it, yet they sat apart from one-another stealing glances and shy smiles like juvenile suitors. “Civilization.” he mutters to himself, mystified.
Strange too that Mountain’s Fang had but a single honour tattoo. If even half her deeds of arms and prowess were true it should have been expanded upon. Has she been away from the quah for too long? Has she forgotten our ways? I may have to contact her father about this.
Coming around the food tents he finds the outlander – Shadow Wing as the young warrior-woman had named him – chopping his way through the woodpile. There is a way to the lad’s movements, different from the night before, that speaks volumes to the right eyes. With a knowing smile Sky Reaver congratulates himself on his instinct to give them just one yurt the night before. I knew all it would take is a little push.
The outlander swings, splits a log. He’s not weak, at least. Another log split. Another. Sweat covers his body in the cold pre-dawn light, highlighting the network of fresh scars. Or frail.
Sky Reaver notes the tattoos that cover his body. So very like a Shoanti, but so different. If these tattoos tell the story of his deeds it is one I cannot read. I should treat with the Shamans about him.
The young man notices him watching. He moves the axe to his off-hand, the head held back, and bows from the shoulders without breaking eye contact. “Kel-grish, Jothka.”
He knows our ways like he was born to them. How many of my own warriors observe the hashke on any but the most formal occasions, let alone do it so instinctively? He speaks our tongue like a skald, too, not stilted and formal like most of his kind. Could Mountain’s Fang be right about him?
Sky Reaver approaches and returns the greeting. “Kel-grish, Oruk Tshal.” He nods towards the woodpile. “Why do you do this, Shadow Wing? You did us a great honour last night.”
Mal finds the man’s use of the honourific surprising after the dressing-down he had given Mountain’s Fang the night before, but as he’d said, it was up to her own tribe to decide the right of the gesture.
“That was a gift, Jothka, a sign of my respect.” He spins the axe, swings, cleaves a log in half. “This is payment for the food I ate and the ale and I drank. For a warm bed and a roof over my head.” Another swing, another split. “I give back to the tribe in thanks and so that none might go without because of me.”
Sky Reaver smiles, puts a hand on Mal’s shoulder, and shakes his head slowly before continuing his tour of the camp.
I’d like to think that was a gesture of respect but he could as easily have been mocking me. Time will tell, I suppose.
Mal returns to chopping the wood, sweating in the cold air even though the sun has barely breached the horizon. Between strikes of the axe his gaze returns to the yurt in which he had rested the night before, waiting for the doorflap to part and Mountain’s Fang to emerge.
Mountain’s Fang drifts out of sleep to the familiar sounds of cookpots rattling, children scampering to their chores, and the crack of an axe splitting wood.
Was that all a dream? Ugh, if that was a dream is that terrible stampede of wildlife with the swallowtails still an omen? I must speak with the elders!
Rolling over, she recognizes this is not the yurt she shares with her siblings and memories of the evening before trickle in as the fog of sleep lifts. Mal is gone, but she recalls his gentle touch and request that she seek him out. She relaxes in the blankets a moment longer, breathing in the scent of him. He had been true to his word in his courtesy.
I am glad that was not a dream… but it is no reason to become lazy. You are a warrior with work to do.
She pulls herself from bed, shears away the previous day’s growth of hair with her battleaxe, and runs through some training warm-ups before donning her battle gear. The routine is grounding, and she steps out of the yurt with her customary air of almost arrogant confidence, eyes scanning the camp for a clue of where to start her search.
Mal is easily spotted only a short distance across the commons, splitting wood behind the food tents. It’s mesmerizing to watch him, skin glistening in the sun, causing the brilliant blue tattoos to shimmer as he swings his axe.
She shakes her head and strolls over.
I should not feel surprise at this. He has acted almost instinctively as a member of the clan since the moment we arrived.
As a child, I heard stories of non-humans passing deadly challenges for the right to join a tribe. I wonder if Shadow Wing would ever accept one. What happens if he refuses? Regardless, I should stop allowing him to show me up. It is long past time to contact my father.
As Mal sets his axe down, she greets him with a broad smile. “When Shoanti children issue a challenge to find them, they do not typically stand in the open.”
Mal returns the smile, a puckish gleam in his eye. “They don’t want to be found.”
He leans on the axe, reaches out and traces a finger along her honour tattoo.
“I think you should expand upon this. You’ve certainly earned the right. So many of your deeds remain untold.”
He lets his hand slide down her face, stopping to cradle her cheek gently before coming to rest on a strong and shapely shoulder. He wants nothing more than to grab her in his arms, to return to the yurt and to hell with the others, but that would have to wait.
Whatever the path we are to walk, we walk it together. That is enough.
“I think the morning meal is almost ready and then we should probably depart. The others will be waking before long and there is much to do within the walls. Why don’t you grab our gear while I finish up these last few logs.”
She moves away slowly, his hand running down her arm as she goes. Their hands meet and clasp. She continues to edge, hesitantly, each of them reluctant to let go. Finally they part and she turns to the yurt, alone with her thoughts as Mal takes up the axe and returns to splitting the wood. Just as she is about to enter the tent he calls out to her.
“Mountain’s Fang!” She stops and turns, puzzled.
Mal is standing with the woodaxe on his shoulder, a broad grin spread across his face. “I don’t suppose you could give me a ride, could you?” He laughs. “I seem to find myself without a horse.”