A First Step

by Christian O'Kane

March 707

This was a small group by the standards of the Keep. Only a score of people from one of the keeps cavalry regiments. But all of the riders were veterans of countless fights and heavily armed and well armored. At the lead was a tall, well muscled wolverine. He dressed and armed the same as the rest but with only one difference. His left leg was gone below the knee replaced by a wooden copy. Andre was still struggling to overcome the loss of his leg but he refused to just sit at home doing nothing. Thankfully he was in the cavalry he didn’t need two legs to ride!

It was a warm and sunny day. The first in many months and it was a welcome relief from the snow and rain. In spite of the sunshine the ground was still wet and the mud deep. Thankfully the road was paved with stone and the horses had no problem with sinking into the mud. But the thick mud did limit their movements to the road making it easier for someone to set up an ambush. That fact kept everyone on edge and the group moved along in silence.

When something did happen it came in an unexpected form. There laying in the middle of the road was a single log. It was a little over ten feet long and still had the tree bark on it. A common way to block a road was to pile up logs and tree limbs but this was hardly effective. This was just a single log and a horse could easy jump over it. Of course the log could easy be trapped in any of several dozen ways and jumping the log could be the worst thing possible.

Suddenly a voice boomed out. “We want to talk,” came the words from the woods.

Weapons were drawn and arrows nocked in readiness for an ambush. But no ambush came. There was just silence. The fields and woods around them remained empty of attackers.

“What’s going on?” someone asked. “This is the strangest ambush I’ve ever been in.”

“Who’s calling?” Andre asked loudly as he drew his own saber.

“We call a truce,” the voice continued. “You not attack us of the Silver Knives tribe and we won’t attack you.”

“A truce? Who are you?” Andre called out as he looked around, trying to locate the source of the voice. “If you truly want a truce show yourself. I promise we won’t attack.”

Off to their left a figure suddenly appeared just inside the tree line, about 20 feet away. It stood motionless for a long moment. The figure was clearly a lutin and although dressed in armor it didn’t seem to be carrying and weapons. “Well?” the figure called out.

The wolverine shook his head slowly. “I never expected you to actually do it,” Andre admitted.

“I expected you to attack me on sight,” the lutin answered.

Andre laughed. “It seems we’ve surprised each other. Is it true you want a truce.”

“Yes, yes it is,” the lutin answered with a slight tone of surprise.

“You sound as surprised as I am,” the cavalry leader commented.

“I am,’ the lutin admitted. “It was my fathers idea.”

Andre laughed. “I see. Why is he offering a truce?”

“Because we both need it. Too many other enemies attack us,” the lutin answered honestly.

“True,” Andre answered honestly.

“You bring Misha here and we talk more about this. He talk to my father!”

“Misha?” Andre asked. “Why not the Duke?”

“Misha is an important person. Also he knows George and the Duke. And if I asked for the Duke to come, would he? Besides the duke sits safe in his castle. Misha is the one who fights us. We know him. And he let the Lutins go free during the Yule attack. That shows honor and trust.”

Andre shivered. During the Yule attack he had been badly wounded and taken prisoner by Lutins. Misha had bargained with the Lutins trading Andres life for letting them go free. Misha had honored the promise. He even gave them safe passage out of the valley. “Does all of the Giantdowns know of it?”

“Yes. Everyone has heard the tale how Misha spared a group of Lutins.”

“Do you believe it?” Andre asked.

“Father does,” came the answer.

“That doesn’t answer the question. Do you?”

“I don’t know. It is has to imagine Misha the Slayer willingly letting a lutin go free,” the lutin explained.

“I find it hard to believe a tribe of Lutins would want a truce with us,” the wolverine answered.

“Then we both are acting on faith,” the lutin commented. “Our offer is genuine.”

“I’ll need time to talk to Misha and the Duke,” Andre said.

“Three days from today,” the Lutin replied. And with those words the lutin stepped backward and quickly vanished into the woods.

The room was silent after Andre stopped talking. Misha, George, Thalberg and Duke Thomas were there listening to the wolverine speak. The doors to Dukes private chambers had been locked and no one let in. Not even the servants who usually moved back and forth freely were allowed in.

“Comments?” Thomas asked.

“Seems simple enough,” George said calmly. “Both sides avoid killing each other.”

“But is it a real offer or just a trick?” the Duke questioned.

“It’s a trick,” Misha answered. “It has to be. The Lutins haven’t negotiated with Metamor in centuries.”

“What of this tribe? What of it’s leader?” the stallion asked.

“The Silver Knives. A good sized tribe with several hundred thousand people including the females and children,” Misha explained. “As for Althrig he has been the chief for at least twenty years.”

“They weren’t involved in the Yule attack,” George added. “And only had a small part in the counterstrike. They were mostly gone when we attacked.”

Thomas nodded his head. “I see. And since then?”

“Some light raids,” Misha answered. “Nothing serious. Mostly cattle and crop stealing.”

“What of our attacks on them?” Thalberg asked.

“Not many,” George said. “I’ve been concentrating on the more hostile tribes. The ones who are killing people and burning things.”

“The Silver knives HAVE been actively fighting,” the fox explained. “Just not with us. In the last few months they have been striking at hard at various other tribes.”

George gave a bark of laughter. “Another reason I’ve been leaving them alone.”

“He mentioned how you saved my life during the Yule attack,” Andre commented.

“That was just common sense,” Misha commented. “We wanted our people back alive and the Lutins wanted to live and escape.”

“Your behavior made a lasting impression on the Lutins,” Thomas said. “Enough for the chief to risk the life of his son.”

Misha shook his head slowly. “I never expected that. It just seemed right the right thing to do. I do remember that the chief promised to never to attack the valley again. And in the months since then the Hammers have lived up to their promise and never attacked the Valley. They haven’t even come near it!”

“You know this as a fact?” Thalberg asked.

“Yes,” George said. “We’ve been watching them.”

“We try and watch all the tribes close to the valley,” Misha added.

“I am inclined to give this chieftain a chance,” the duke announced softly.

“Thomas . . . “ Misha started but the Duke cut him off with a wave of the hand.

“No. I understand that it’s probably a trick but we cannot keep fighting these Lutins forever. We must make peace,” Thomas intoned.

“It’s been tried before,” Misha countered. “Several times over the centuries.”

“And we will keep trying until the Lutins finally understand.”

Misha found the lutin leaning against a large tree puffing on a pipe. The foul smelling smoke filled the air around them both. The lutin was well dressed in a coat of chainmail armor that had rings of silver and gold mixed in with the steel ones. On his fingers and dangling from his ears were rings of gold. Misha did not doubt that this was the Chief of the Silver Knifes tribe. He had been close to him before but then things had not been so cordial.

Misha gave a short nod of the head in greeting. “Hello Althrig.”

“Greetings Misha,” the lutin answered. “I’m glad you decided to come.”

“Thank you,” the fox answered. He was feeling oddly out of place here. Usually the only time he gets this close to a lutin was when he was killing them. And yet here he was talking amiably with the leader of one of the largest tribes in the southern Giantdowns.

“Well?” the lutin asked calmly. Breaking Misha’s line of thought.

“You asked for me,” Misha countered harshly.

The lutin smiled broadly revealing a set of clean white teeth. “Yes I did.”

Misha growled softly. “I’m not here for silly word games.”

“True. Do you speak for the Duke?” the lutin asked as he puffed on his pipe.

“Yes I do,” the fox scout answered.

“My offer is simple. A truce. You don’t attack my people and we won’t attack yours,” the lutin explained.

“That’s it? You make it sound so simple,” Misha commented.

Althrig nodded. “It is. You stay out of our tribes lands and leave our people alone and we’ll stay out of the valley and leave the Keepers alone.”

“Why?” Misha asked. “Why now after a thousand years of warfare?”

“Because we both need the respite,” the lutin explained. “And we both have a greater goal in mind. We both want Nasoj dead.”

Misha wagged his tail. “True!” that was a reason Misha could understand. “How long would this truce last?”

“Till the summer equinox at least.” The lutin answered.

There was a long silence as neither spoke or moved.

“Well?” the lutin asked. “Is it a deal?”

Misha didn’t speak as he pondered the Lutins words. Was this Lutin speaking the truth? Was it the truth? Probably not. Certainly the tribe had been remarkable quiet these last few months. They were probably just looking for time to recover before they attacked the valley. But still if there was a the chance . . .

“Yes,” Misha said firmly.

The lutin smiled broadly and extended a hand. Misha put out his own and the two shook hands.

“What happens after the summer equinox?” the scout asked.

“Who can tell?” came the vague answer. “Perhaps we can extend it till the end of the year.”

“Do you think this could lead to something more permanent?” Misha asked. “It would be nice to finally see some peace here.”

The lutin shrugged. “Only time will tell but it is a start. The first steps.”