Asend didn't yet even notice he was alive when someone suddenly grabbed his shoulder. In panic and surprise, instinct overtook all reason. He caught the unknown man in an iron grip and snapped his neck before he could come to his senses.
Asend's shoulders slumped in exhaustion. He could remember all too well the elation with which he stood on the prow of his long, slender boat, seeing for the first time an unknown island. After days of sailing the endless sea with his retinue, he finally found a place to conquer and claim for his own.
The storm which enveloped the island and lashed out to the sea brought a swift end to his plans. It was fierce, far more than Asend's oarsmen could hope to handle. As they entered the bay, one of the boats was struck with lightning and the remaining three capsized.
Asend rubbed his eyes and looked around the beach. Some time must have passed, since the sky was clear, and the wind was now no stronger than a breeze. Even so, the warriors of his retinue were nowhere to be seen.
Deep inside, Asend could already hear his younger brother's laughter. A prince is not supposed to be alone. Father would agree - a ruler is there to lead people. Without leadership, conquering campaigns are pointless.
"I'll take the island on alone if that's what it takes," Asend promised to himself. He barely even uttered the words, and suddenly he was surrounded by a screaming mob. A cacophony of voices swallowed him.
That day, Asend's luck disappeared behind the horizon, even deeper than twilight sun. The castaway struggled with all his might but was overwhelmed. He, the ruler's son, falling not to weapons, but just some foreigners' hands.
Desperation gave way to fear. A crowd of men and women gathered around him, wearing fairly long skirts with colourful ornaments. The two men who pinned him down were arguing with the others.
Some child picked up a piece of coconut shell and threw it at Asend.
The castaway had no idea whether to try and do something or wait. He did not know these people. Their complexion was very similar to his, dark-skinned with curly hair. Maybe just a bit more slender in build than himself. The way they spoke was strange though - women shouting in public and men talking to them - all of them, not just their wives as custom would dictate.
Waiting for the argument to finish, Asend's eye wandered towards a wide swath of flat land, stretching from the beach all the way to the hills inland. It was crisscrossed with tiny streams, separating individual fields. Those that lay barren served as grazing grounds for fat, hairy animals with beaks where their faces should have been.
Some children and young men were gathered around, tending to these strange creatures. Looking at them, Asend suddenly noticed several men creeping towards the herd through a sparse palm grove.
The native children started screaming. Their mothers, still gathered around Asend, yelled back. The foreign natives now hurried to the animals, waving their arms wildly, trying to lead them away.
The men in the crowd would probably have reacted eventually, but none of them were as quick as Asend. Probably not as sharp either, the prince thought to himself. No longer guarded, he got up and started running towards the intruders. Shouting loudly, he got their attention. Not content with just that, he grabbed a pebble off the ground and flung it at one of the attackers. Hit square in the head, the aggressor collapsed to the ground.
Here's hoping they'll take this into account when they decide my fate, Asend thought. He could have escaped into the wilderness, but what good would that do him? He had no idea where he was or what manner of creatures lived there. While he didn't want to trust the mercy of the tribesmen from the village where he washed ashore, he had to concede that he really had no choice in this matter as the crowd caught up and enveloped him once again.
Asend was taken to the centre of the large settlement surrounded with a palisade. There, among strange houses built not on logs above water but right there on the ground, he was left under the guard of two strongest men in the tribe.
After some further bickering, the crowd dispersed. The guards tried to explain something, but to Asend their speech sounded like a complete gobbledygook.
Eventually, the horrible, long and sweltering day ended in sundown, and the tribesmen again gathered in the centre of the village. Up close, the prince could see their necklaces - elders and those with most authority wore the most elaborate adornments, made of many beautifully carved ornaments of bone and stone.
All of them, however, paled in comparison to the chieftain, who strode regally, wearing a long skirt with floral patterns so intricate that there were many simple human figures woven in as if hiding in lush vegetation. His necklace formed a stone mass of terrifying animal shapes slithering around his neck.
"Tesa ma pera?" the chieftain inquired. Asend did not understand.
"Keraemaň isan paka?"
One of the guards asked to speak. He pointed at the captive: "Ko maccerin Perpitalan-
sum kesi akkepakke."
The crowd yelped in unison and the chieftain decided: "Ko telomak pirtukem
Before Asend could react, the two guards took him and carried him inside a long
building at the edge of the village. There they left him alone and locked the door.
The castaway couldn't make anything out in the complete darkness, but almost
immediately, a powerful and horrible stench assaulted his nostrils, muted growling reverberating in the night. Suddenly, a blood-curdling shriek shook him to the bone.
Something was moving in the darkness. Something... big.
Asend almost forgot to breathe. He braced for an attack from the mysterious animal, but instead the dark mass stopped stirring. It settled down and snoring soon filled the air.
It took the prince a long time to close his eyes. He kept thinking if his brother would find him and set him free in time. He did, after all, also embark on a raid into unexplored seas, even if he followed a different course. How long would it take for him to notice something was not right?
Asend was woken by gentle kicks to his back. He opened his eyes and the first thing he saw were the animals, that kept his nightly rest uncomfortable.
There were six of them in the barn - two adults and four younglings. These were the weirdest creatures Asend had ever seen. They had bat-like wings, strong membranes covered in fine fur. They walked on all fours, using knuckles of front limbs and hiding massive talons there. The short, bent neck bore narrow head ending in an eagle-like beak.
The animals looked at Asend with curiosity. Their round pupils emanated surprised look.
The prince felt a tap on his back. The poor castaway turned in angst and saw a woman - strong in composure, with first grey locks of hair. She walked around him and threw a few pieces of meat and some fruit to the animals. Then she grabbed Asend and pushed him outside.
"Metukprial," she said, pointing to her chest. Asend told her his name in kind.
Metukprial stayed with the stranger until the evening. The whole time she tried to teach him words of her mother tongue. When she saw him thirst or hunger, she went and brought him fruit. Asend often lost focus, looking at the palisade of the settlement with desire, as if he wanted to jump over them and run towards the sea. The wild element almost killed him, but at the same time, Asend longed for the sea. It was the only link to his family and life he once had.
The woman came again on the second day. And the third. After the fifth, Asend stopped counting. He instead became content with the treatment he got from the natives, although he had no idea what caused it.
Over time he became acquainted with other people of the settlement, as Metukprial took him from away from the barn, first to her own house and then beyond the palisade. Without stopping, she pushed new and new words into his mind.
The life surrounding Asend slowly started to make some sort of sense. The settlement bore the name Maccuspura, that is, the tail of a river. It was the largest among several, which shared the same tongue. People fed themselves by growing short, tuber-bearing plants and berry-yielding shrubs on their small fields surrounding the settlements. The cumbersome, furry creatures with beaks where the mouth would be were retained in separate pens and released to graze on empty swathes between the fields.
The purpose of some things still eluded Asend - why at the edge of the settlement, away from other houses, had the local healer a curious hut in shape of an egg, standing on tall posts. And although he tried to pay special heed, he could not find out what the locals were doing with the winged creatures, with which Asend shared the barn. He saw them flying away to the mountains inland and always return back in the evening.
One evening Asend found out what the palisade was for. That day, not much time was left till dusk, when shouts started to come from the outside. He understood some danger was afoot.
"Hide in the barn," Metukprial told him. When he resisted, she reasoned: "We do not want to lose you."
"But why?" Asend wondered. He already noticed that the chief and the settlers had their plans with him, but still could not figure out, what those were. He knew only that they treated him the way not even the most honored guest would be treated on his home island, except for the barn. But he got used to that already.
Asend ran to the gate in the palisade. On the plain between the sea and the mountains he could see a few dozen men armed with javelins and bows. The inhabitants of Maccuspura and nearby villages were gathering to face them.
Horns were sounded - those uncannily sounding horns, that Asend heard the first day. He recognized them, as the sound sent shivers down his spine. Both sides used the horns and then the intruders ran ahead, into the flocks of the fat grazing animals belonging to Maccuspura, and tried to herd them to their side.
In response, the defenders sprinted against the intruders in a wide skirmish line. They threw their javelins. The opponents threw theirs. Several men, on both sides, fell to the ground. Asend warily watched the men of both groups. He hoped the defenders would prevail with minimal losses, but they, seemingly unconcerned with their own lives, ran straight past the
enemy skirmish line. Was the weird livestock worth more than human life?
One of the defenders of Maccuspura, a guardsman by the name of Jaskelitamu, ended his hapless pursuit with a javelin between his shoulder blades and collapsed. Asend remembered him as the man who had offered him water the first day after his arrival. He recalled his
welcoming smile as he introduced himself. That was the last straw.
Maybe the prince did not have the full understanding of local customs, but he would not
stand idle watching more death. He ran to the fields and picked up an abandoned javelin. He entered the fray like a fierce summer storm, driving the ocean against the coast. His weapon seemed to be everywhere and repeatedly stabbed with the accuracy of a fisherman lurking in pellucid water.
Manzat bigdulan was his moniker back home. The Gale With a Sword. But a true master cared not which weapon he wielded.
The intruders backed off quicker than when they emerged. Asend pursued them as far as he could. In the end, only two animals ran off with the attackers.
The fighting left five men lying. After inspection and a brief patch-up, three stood up. The shaman of Maccuspura tended to them and recited something about turning away from the faces of the ancestors and a firm shell.
The shaman, surprisingly, also tended the wounded enemies. He inspected them and cleaned their wounds. Then he left them at the beach to recover and go home.
Asend did not expect thanks after he went back. He did what his nature commanded him to - no true fighter can look at an uneven fight and not take a side. That he also told Metukprial, but she urged him all the more intently to go back to the barn.
"Who were they?" Asend asked.
"Kuttamacepra," Metukprial replied, "A nearby settlement and bigger than ours."
"Did I do something wrong?" the prince wondered, seeing his teacher in distress.
"I do not know. The son of spirits will decide," she replied, mentioning the shaman. "But what could go wrong?"
"The balance," Metukprial explained. "Kuttamacepra is a settlement, like ours. They are
bigger, but are just like us. They trade with us. We exchange our surplus for good, worked stone or animals or trinkets. Sometimes one settlement has surplus and the other lacks. The one lacking, in order to put itself back up, will attack. Its people will steal what they are missing. Sometimes they kill men and steal good stone from around the neck. Sometimes they steal animals. Sometimes they scale the barrier and look for trinkets."
"That is not nice," Asend reasoned. His father would definitely not allow some villagers to steal his property. He was the ruler, after all.
"It is not nice to scare away those people so rudely. If the balance was not restored, they will come back. Maybe they will think we are too strong now and will return only to kill more of our men."
Asend found it hard to admit his mistake. He was, after all, just helping the locals! How was he supposed to chase away the enemy without causing them casualties? What sort of a man would be intimidated without seeing exemplary punishment?
The enemy settlers did not return on the next day, not even the day after that. Asend did not have much time to think about them though. The hardest challenge of his life awaited him. Metukprial introduced him to the parents, the sister and even the wife of the man he
killed on the beach. The chief, Kuppiraň, stood by, for security of everyone involved.
Facing the bereft, Asend lamented his action and even started to cry. He could not understand, where the anger at himself was coming from. No longer able to bear the sight of
the mourning family, he went to the closest palm tree and tried to break it with his bare hands. "Why is this trunk sturdier than a human life?" Asend cried. That day he understood his punishment and had no further questions. He no longer slept in the barn, but lived with the bereft family. He had to replace their missing son, brother - even husband. It took him many nights to acquiesce to this last role. In it, he had to lie with the wife of the late man, he was even supposed to please her. In Asend ́s homeland it was said that a woman ́s happiness rested in raising her kids and keeping the fortune her husband brought home. In Maccuspure, a woman ́s happiness meant that she fell asleep and then woke up with a smile. And people in the village
even asked Asend about it!
Urikepa, the wife of the late man whom Asend had killed, was initially at the fence
herself, but she accepted Asend without reprehension. Women in Asend ́s homeland tended to mourn dead husbands for years, but this one started to joke with, and even seduce Asend barely a week later.
The prince never expected a woman to choose him. Yet the longer he was in Urikepa ́s presence, the kinder she seemed to him, and the harder it was for him to rebuke her advances and provocative looks. One night he finally succumbed. He followed her to the bedroom and did not close his eyes when she dropped her clothes and did not protest, when she bared his body as well. In the thrill of the moment, he pushed himself on her and did not stop for more than an hour. By that time the entire settlement had gathered in front of the house to congratulate Asend for fulfilling a husband ́s duty. Children even mocked him for taking so long.
The night covered the settlement in its coat, only here and there torn by torchlight. Urikepa woke her new mate.
"It is time," she said.
Asend did not understand and was glad for it. Now every day he was hoping to make some new revelation about the local life. Past two weeks seemed very dull. Twice the men went away to the mountains accompanied by two adult flying kuripin, only to return with spoils of wild game and basketfuls of honey. The animals made the treks easier by carrying a all the hunted game back to the village. That aside, life continued in a simple, steady rhythm.
Like a heavy air before the storm, Asend thought to himself. He was glad to be ultimately proven right.
Urikepa led him through the night to the edge of the settlement. There, the shaman - an old, wrinkly man with rough skin like a starfish ́s took his by hand and then pushed him out of the fenced area. "Go back whence you came. Then follow the lights. The world shall be opening afore you and you have to go through the egg, like every living thing," he proclaimed.
Asend went away to the beach. He watched in silence the movement of the sea and thought of his brother and father. Will he see them ever again? He missed them both.
The prince found an empty shell thrown out by the sea. He recalled an old superstition from his homeland, whispered his wish into the shell and threw it back into the water. Then he turned away and walked back into the settlement, ready to face the unknown. The line of lit torches led him to the egg-shaped house. He went up the short ladder and entered.
In the egg house the shaman was already waiting. The air inside was heavy with odour, and smoke visibly whirled around in long plumes. Asend breathed in. The air tasted sweet at the tip, but deeper in throat it stung.
There was not light inside the house and even the embers died. Despite that Asend slowly started to sense his surroundings. He sat to the left of the entrance, as told by the shaman. From the woven walls of the house sprang dead-white dots and stripes, connecting into shapes and figures.
None of the figures were entirely human. One had ten hands, each of different size, and another one had an enormous mouth, or rather was nothing but a mouth.
The shaman started to sing in deep, throaty voice:
"The world was not and being was not, all like an egg, unbroken and whole.
The egg cracked and Thereafter began. Thereafter Puttiram hatched and breathed. Puttiram was first to see and saw the egg floating on an endless sea.
Then he flattened it and released the others. Kapiruccam, Mesirissol, Ellapakam,
The world egg had a hard shell. It was big. It became the dry land.
Puttiram flew into the night and hung the stars in eternity.
Kapiruccam fell into the water and his ten hands stretched toward the deep. From deep rose new life. It multiplied, until it filled infinity.
Mesirissol wanted to eat the world egg. In her hunger, she fell under.
Mesirissol swallowed the sea creatures and when she fell sick, threw them all up. Mesirissol created all the soil.
Ellapakam stood tall and fertilized Uptikessa. They bore Reason.
Ellapakam severed his manhood and from Mesirissol bore coconuts.
Uptikessa dressed the world into colours other than the deathly white of stars. Uptikessa made the Sun and with it colours came.
Puttiram fought her and to make amends, she created the Moon in his image."
The epic was long. The primordial beings had lower offspring and the smallest of those became humans, and animals, and plants. And the first gods, tired of their fight, went away from the island and let the creatures serve them. But the creatures did not like this command,
and so the gods lost most of their power. Their enormous bodies became the mountains of the island and Mesirissol kept spewing out new hills.
When the song ended, the shaman added: "All life comes from an egg. Us humans also, although we are born differently, only grow to adulthood through an egg. That ́s why you are here.
When humans objected to the gods, angry Mesirissol created fire demons to torture us and oppose us. And we, who remember and come from the first generation of gods ́ children, tell this story further. Always we are born anew and come to fulfil this duty to a village that recently lost its memory." Finally the shaman asked Asend to choose a new name.
The prince did not know what to think. His own eyes saw the white strings of colour, the light of which could not come from any natural source. He saw the scenes no mind could come up with. And yet, his old home had different knowledge.
"You are not of the island," the shaman cut the silence. "Tell me of the place that gave birth to you."
"If your soul was around from the beginning, you should have known," Asend snapped. He felt the ties to his home loosening and did not want to lose himself.
"I know not what lay beyond the horizon," the shaman admitted.
"So everything you said up till now was a lie."
"The soul does not remember everything upon being restored. But a soul unrestored,
which heads ultimately to the maw of Mesirissol, has no knowledge of that."
"You will yourself become fodder, and in your own lifetime," Asend said. "My father is a great man beyond any other. The heavenly coat of stars trembles in his glory. The sea sings
of his... wooden instruments that float." "What do you call those?"
"Kidla." Asend continued, pouring out his heart: "My kidla was destroyed by bad wind. My men - yes, I led men, like a ňapurri male leads his flock - found their deaths in the water. Had they survived, Maccuspura would have been mine by now. Many people would have died. And from Maccuspura I would extend my reach, until my own glory covered all of the dry land."
"Is that what you want, still?" The shaman asked.
"I know not," the prince admitted. He could harm these people no longer. They cared for him, fed him and gave him protection and a purpose - to care for the family of the man he killed. In one thing, though, his mind was certain: "I will keep my name. I am not of this world and I will break your rules."
"The world has been in imbalance ever since you came," the shaman confirmed. "You will not restore the balance."
Asend did not intend to heed the shamans ́s words. He was a prince, after all, and as such should have some power over his destiny. He did not want to hurt the settlers any more than he already had, and so he decided to put his might elsewhere - toward hunting.
The chief, Kuppiraň, agreed to his choice. Asend got the task of caring for the adult kuripin during hunting ventures.
The prince imagined his involvement differently, but very quickly realized, that the task suited him well. Once released from the barn, a kuripin was a quick animal. For a short distance it could run surprisingly fast. Then it spread its wings and threw itself in the air.
Few things could match a kuripin ́s elegance and swiftness in the air. And Asend had to keep up with them across the entire plain and give them orders whenever they finally decided to land.
To his own surprise, the prince found out that the animals liked him. Whether it was due to the nights he spent in the barn or his natural authority, the kuripin gladly submitted and followed his orders.
Five men chose to participate in the next hunt - Asend, Siňirup, the second of the guardsmen who subdued him on his arrival day, the son of the chief, Turopasil, and two others. Especially for Turopasil this was an important event. He wanted to bring in plentiful spoils, which he would offer to the chief of a neighboring village in exchange for the hand of his daughter.
The hunting party crossed the coastal plain, dotted like a skirt by small villages and bigger settlements. They went all the way and made no stops. During the night, lonely patches of trees served as their cover.
The road then brought them into a hot, lush forest. Asend noticed that all the birds there were barely bigger than his hand. The space between the trees was usurped by small flying creatures reminiscent of kuripin.
"Those are wild kuripin," confirmed Siňirup. He had the swiftest pace in the group and walked ahead alongside Asend. He also explained everything that piqued the prince ́s interest. "Many generations ago we tamed them. The younglings we still take with us to hunt small game, like in the old times. But with good food, the kuripin began to grow. Now we use them for hauling the hunted meat."
Asend instinctively looked up. The villagers ́ kuripin were flying up there in big circles.
The prince wanted to know how big of an animal could be lurking in such a dense forest. Turopasil just snorted and continued walking with a grin on his face. Others said nothing.
Some time later the party climbed a softly rising hillside of one of the main mountains. Asend noticed that the kuripin, so far accompanying the hunters, dived down somewhere ahead of them. He told the chief ́s son, who ran ahead shouting: "Ňaňaňaňaňa!"
Asend and the others followed. They came upon a wide clearing covered in black rocks. It looked as if the rocks turned into a sea and slowly drowned a swath of the forest, drowning anything living, until only an open space was left. Siňirup explained that Mesirissol threw up.
The prince was more interested in the fight in the middle of the clearing. The Kuripins found a suitable prey - a creature as tall as a man, with long fore- and short hindlimbs. This creature had a short, wide beak, adapted for combing the leaves off trees, and meaty cheeks.
The herbivore stood no chance. The flying animals dived on him and buried their long talons in its body. The prey managed to give a few shrieks before it fell lifeless to the ground.
Turopasil chased the kuripins away with his spear. Apparently, this was the prey he was seeking as well and he did not intend for the village animals to beat him in the hunt.
Asend knew such feeling well. Once Turopasil calmed down, he came to him and took him by the shoulders, saying: "Don ́t worry. We will find another."
Siňirup protested: "There won ́t be time enough for that. We must be quick, lest the demons of fire find us." He hurried the other party members. He then cut off a slice of meat for the kuripins and started to chop the rest, in order to load it on the animals and send them off to the village.
Turopasil would have none of it. Despondent, he ran up the slope to get a better view and hopefully come upon traces of another creature. However, none were to be found.
Instead, on the other side of the lava clearing, terrible figures came out of the forest. Their skin was covered in red and black stripes, noses were pierced, and beads and other ornaments hung from their ears. Their long hair was adorned with bird feathers and bone horns, uncannily similar to the great talons of kuripin.
At first only five to six figures emerged from the forest. In their harsh tongue they were proclaiming something and shaking their spears and bows. Then they moved towards the party. Turopasil was first to bear their force. He sighted the demons and ran back to his fellows, but he was slower than they were. The demons hopped down the lava field as if it was their
Asend again felt his protector instinct inside him. After all, what sort of leader doesn't
take good care of his own? He could, at the very least, try and change the fate of these few men. He started running against the demons. He hoped that, just as during the battle with the neigboring settlement, these opponents would get scared easily.
However, the demons of the mountain stood their ground. They blocked Asend ́s way and pointed their spears at him. The prince also took fighting stance.
First demon sprang forward. The prince sidestepped him and struck him with the spear shaft. In one fluid motion he evaded another spear attack and used his own weapon to kill the demon on the ground with a strike between the shoulder blades. Then he quickly removed the tip and with a quick swing at the face sent another demon to Mesirissol.
The rest of the demons tried to shoot at Asend from their bows. One of the arrows grazed his leg, but he managed to dodge the rest. The prince then chased after the archers. He managed to get only halfway through, when he suddenly stopped.
There were dozens more demons coming out of the forest.
Siňirup yelled at Asend to run away with the party, but the prince declined. "I will try to buy you some time," he maintained, "you run!"
The settlers were quick to agree. They loaded as much meat as they could on one kuripin and ran.
In the meantime, Asend was showing off with his spear. He knew his only chance was to truly frighten his opponents. But even his skill did not awe them. A few more arrows flew his way, and he managed to dodge those as well.
Demons then rushed him like a flood wave just as Asend ́s hand started to tingle and his knee gave way. The world around him started to spin and his stomach felt sick. The prince backed away. At first he thought he might have slipped on a lava rock, but the weakness did not leave him.
Asend grabbed his spear with his left hand, as he could barely move his right arm. Now he was less handy in fighting off the enemy. The striped wave was unabashed by his feeble attempts at resistance.
The hapless prince looked at the sky and noticed a big shadow circling lower and lower, before it dove right at him. Shouting and animal screeching ensued.
Asend dropped the spear. Although the world was madly spinning around him, he made out the grey-brown colour of a kuripin. He embraced the animal ́s neck. The ground vanished from underneath him and for a moment Asend felt the world pulling him down. He held even tighter.
The kuripin was struggling, not used to such an uneven burden. Asend could not move his right hand, he just held it and hoped he wouldn ́t get loose. Now he understood that poison was coursing through his body.
He did not want to die, and so he forced his eyes open.
Finally, the kuripin managed to stabilise mid-flight and Asend still held to his neck. Now the prince used the opportunity to make it easier for the animal - he pushed one leg over the back and sat.
It was not a comfortable seat, as the rider had to push himself against the animal ́s neck. The kuripin almost went down to the ground. After that Asend changed his position again, lying on his back. He stayed that way for the rest of the flight.
Once panic went away, the prince started to look around. The shock induced by poison prevented him from thinking about falling down. Instead, he fixed his attention to the wind playing with his hair, colder up there than down on the ground, and the scenery down below. He could no longer see the clearing with the demons. From so high above he looked at lower peaks of the mountain range in the middle of the island and once they closed in on Maccuspura, he looked as well at the coastal plain with its numerous settlements.
Until that moment Asend had had no idea how big the island was. He still could not see its other side. The coast simply stretched as far as he could see. He wondered what the chances were of his brother ever finding him. From this far above it did not look small.
Finally, the kuripin landed in the middle of Maccuspura and immediately shrieked to get help. Asend released his grip and slid down its back to the ground. Then the shaman took care of him.
The prince came to his senses after several days of delirious fever. Once he regained his faculties, he found out he was back in the barn. The shaman and Turopasil were sitting by his side. The youth insisted that he owed his life to Asend. The shaman just smirked knowingly.
"They grew fond of you," the shaman concluded, as one of the kuripins came to Asend and started snuggling to him. Undoubtedly it was the same one that carried him. "I had no idea, in which ways you would come to change our world. Now I think I am starting to get a glimpse."
It took some time for Asend to understand the shaman ́s words. But first of all he needed to satiate his thirst and hunger and then think everything through. After all of that, Asend asked whether he could borrow one of the adult kuripins. The chief did not protest and the chief ́s son even came to Asend daily to observe what he was up to.
Asend tried to train the kuripin to carry a person. At first he had trouble explaining to the animal what he was about to attempt. Kuripin did not like to carry people outside of imminent danger. Asend figured out that he might be willing to do so for a treat. So he went to
hunt with the animal every day and helped it find and capture as much prey as possible. The kuripin would need even stronger muscles in order to carry a grown man without issue.
With repeated hunts the animal started to be more amiable and let the prince ride it on their way back.
By that point Asend was thinking about a saddle. He needed to fix his legs and at the same time sit closer to the rear in order not to hinder the animal. Here Turopasil turned out to be a useful helper. He weaved some cords into a harness and stretched it between the neck of the animal and its tailbone. The nooses tightened around the rider ́s knees and kept him in place. A badly woven skirt served as a cushion.
Asend did not understand, how Turopasil could have so much free time. After an argument the chief ́s son let him in on the truth: the planned wedding was called off. The smaller villages near Maccuspura were busy with renewed raids in their vicinity and preferred to keep appeasing the stronger settlements further down the coast.
Asend was concerned about that as well. The attacks happened with unpleasant regularity. Usually only a few pieces of livestock would go missing, or the attackers would capture some men and steal their stone necklaces. The Maccuspura settlers, on the other hand, were also successful and could chase away as many animals as they lost themselves. But if even just a few men lost their lives, the situation turned out to be much worse.
"We may find another way how to make you into the pride of Maccuspura," said Asend thinking and looking at the youth ́s muscular body. He knew he could turn him into a good warrior.
The chief Kuppiraň was not happy that his son was spending so much time outside of the settlement and his duties. Kuppiraň ́s household was losing the hoarded supplies and as a result his authority was now supported only by the wisdom of his leadership.
Thus Kuppiraň sought out Asend and with a worried voice tried to persuade him to leave Turopasil alone. Asend agreed, but in return asked the chief and his family to come and dine in his home.
An approval for an approval. Kuppiraň suspected a trap, but had no way of retaliating.
Asend greeted his guests in front of the house he was living in and brought them out of the settlement, to a beach. He seated them in front of a dozen bonfires upon which, as it turned out, he roasted game meat.
Kuppiraň gazed bewildered at such a wasteful feast. Asend explained: "All of this is meat fresh from today ́s hunt, procured by myself. Kuripin is a surprisingly good companion in a fight."
Before the gathered folk could eat all the meat, Asend went to the point: "I was thinking, Kuppiraň... how many kuripin are we as a settlement able to get?"
"Maybe a pair or two... Kuripin tend to keep their distance from their kind while nesting."
That forced Asend to reconsider. Could he proceed with his plan even with only the two kuripin he had? Maybe.
"I have a plan how to secure Maccuspura, from now on forever. The raids would cease. Nobody would steal your livestock. You would not need so many men on guard duty," the prince suggested.
"What is the catch?" Kuppiraň asked.
"Well, it would be a... novel approach."
The chief did not like it one bit. He only agreed after the shaman intervened on Asend ́s
behalf. Kuppiraň knew he was diving in deep waters, from which there was no return.
So it happened that after a month of preparations all the men of Maccuspura sallied out, armed with their spears and bows. At their head was Siňirup of the guard. Asend and Turopasil were flying above on kuripins. They saw miles ahead and blew their horns regularly to let the
men know that the path was clear.
The men fell upon the big settlement of Kuttamacepra like a sudden whirlwind.
Although Kuttamacepra could have hosted as much as double the number of people, its men ran terror-struck through the fields and their kuripin stayed grounded in the barn. The Maccuspurans besieged them with ease.
Asend and Turopasil flew down beyond the settlement ́s palisade. They landed right in front of the local egg house. The inhabitants gathered round and stared at them with awe.
The chief came forward, asking what they wanted. Asend proposed: "A settlement is hard to defend if you do not know that the enemy is coming. He can come in large numbers and chase away all your livestock.
"But you cannot surprise us anymore. We have kuripin and we see far ahead. We are, however, willing to share our experience and knowledge of the beasts. Under the condition that your men follow me and never again attack Maccuspura."
Just like Kuppiraň before, the chief of this settlement was also not interested in the bargain. Asend pointed out: "This way balance is kept. You lose an ability and gain one in turn." To prove the weight of his words, he let Turopasil mount his animal, fly high and from there shoot thrice with an arrow at a nearby tree trunk. The youth did not miss his mark and his skill was the talk of the occasion all throughout the coastal plain.
Kuttamacepra became the first settlement to fall to Asend. And since there had not - until then - been a man who would consider negotiations between the settlements his sole occupation, the locals had no name for such a position. So Asend was called Asend and his name came to mean also the position he gained.
Mesirissol was not the only deity that meant to test Asend. Not long after the siege of Kuttamacepra, strong northern winds brought with them waves and upon them, ships.
These were long, slender ships, so well-known to Asend. His expedition had four, but now he saw ten. He knew they were full of armed, mighty men.
The naval force came when Asend was on one of his hunting trips on his kuripin. The prince barely managed to steer the animal back to the settlement. Before landing he circled over the beach to make sure he did not see a mirage.
What to do now? If his brother is present among the men on board, they will want to plunder. Asend, of course, would be welcome to join them - but at the same time he would destroy everything he had managed to build in previous months.
Another option would be to face them. But he could not do it alone and also did not want to.
Asend landed near the gate in Maccuspura ́s palisade. He called upon all who heard him. He sent women, children and men alike inside the palisade and ordered them to bar the entrance.
Turopasil objected and meant to stand by Asend ́s side. But this was neither the time nor the place for valor.
"Do you know them?" The chief ́s son asked.
"My brother may be among them," the prince confirmed.
"Why do they come here?"
"To destroy your balance," Asend replied. That was as good an explanation as he could
provide. But to the question whether he wanted to join them he found no answer. Thus, in silence Asend came forth, facing the disembarking warriors. Turopasil grabbed a spear and followed.
Mizdilan, Asend ́s brother, was among the first to jump ashore. Immediately he began to order the men into a battle line. Their shields were broad and their weapons of wood and shark-teeth gleamed in the sun, in joyous expectation of coming slaughter. No trinkets adorned these warriors, as they were not here to show off. Their wealth was hoarded in their homes, guarded by their wives, and their sole business here was to further add to it by their murderous art.
Asend greeted the warriors: "Welcome, my brothers, in my domain! I hope you are glad to see me!"
Mizdilan came forth. He saw his brother and took a closer look. Once certain it truly was him, he embraced him firmly. Then he dragged the lost brother aside and told him: "I am glad you survived, dear brother. Do you have any weapon at hand? None of my men will be willing to part with theirs and lose a chance to fight in a glorious battle."
"But why would you fight here?" Asend replied. "These people are mine. Was it not our father ́s wish for us to extend his empire and thus both get land enough to rule?"
"But father wanted you to succeed him. You cannot stay stuck in this hole! You belong on the seat of power and glory, brother dear! My part was to save you."
Asend focused as hard as he could. He needed to decide! Where did he belong? His entire life he had been a prince. He lived in society which he understood and in which he knew his place and what was expected of him. Power and glory.
Could that all have changed within last few months? Did Asend change himself?
He looked at Turopasil, who was sizing up the newcomers and threatening them with his spear, but was afraid to do anything.
Asend felt sorry for him. Him and all the people he got to know on the island. He could not face his brother nor could he forget about his earlier life - after all, who would not want to go back to a life of luxury, the like of which the settlers had no idea of? He could at least warn them though. He turned to Turopasil, yanked the weapon off his hands and started to yell at him:
"Run! Warn the others, take your livestock and kuripin and hide in the forest! Send the message to all other settlements!"
Asend ́s brethren did not understand the foreign speech. Turopasil understood the warning and darted away. The gate to Maccuspura shut close once he passed. Now one could just hope the settlers will be quick enough.
Mizdilan laughed at his brother ́s apparent tantrum. "You could have at least left him to me, or skewered him," he said.
"I had a weak moment," Asend admitted. "These people took good care of me the past few months.
"Good. So you can tell us where they hide their riches," Asend ́s brother suggested in good spirits.
"They have none," Asend answered truthfully. Not in any common sense, he said to himself. In his mind kuripin were a prize more valuable than gems or soil.
The warriors of Asend ́s tribe were fully disembarked and ordered in groups by now. Their host counted several hundred heads. Such a force was going to blow over the island like a powerful storm.
Most men headed toward Maccuspura, the rest toward the villages further away from the coast. Mizdilan asked his brother, whether he wanted to lead the charge, but Asend declined. He did not want to relive that terrible moment of deciding for one or the other side. He wished to board a ship and leave the shore as soon as possible. Mizdilan gave him two warriors and his permission.
Away from the shore Asend watched Maccuspura being put to the torch. A few specks appeared in the sky. Kuripins were flying away to safety. The shore was far enough that no screams could be heard.
The island will become part of the domain of Asend ́s father. Most settlements will be destroyed, some smaller ones shall be kept. The soldiers will build a new port in a suitable harbor. Then they will bring in hundreds of men, who will take local women by force, to give rise to a new generation of warriors, who will again sail the seas and spread their language and way of life. No balance, just an overwhelming force.
Yet a few memories of family, friends and the joy of sailing were enough to dissipate Asend ́s gloom.
By then, second village burned.
Twelve fruitful years had passed since the first attack on the Island of the Five Gods. Asend conscientiously took up the role of a ruler and brought prosperity to the empire of his ancestors. He failed, however, to subjugate the newly discovered island. Thrice he sent his warriors on long ships to its shores. None of the sorties returned.
The fourth time, Asend decided to sail along. This time, he took only a handful of men on three ships with him. The men gathered for the departure understood little of his designs, or why he was parting with his wife as if he was to never see her again, or why did he pronounce his younger brother the heir apparent.
No storm surprised this expedition. It sailed to the island without hindrance, yet the greatest storm of them all was brewing in Asend ́s belly.
As soon as the island was in sight, a few dark specks appeared on the sky. Once they drew in, Asend recognized them as kuripin. Each of some two dozen animals carried a rider.
"Do not attack!" Reminded Asend his warriors, when kuripin swooped low over their head and turned to go back to the island.
"But, sir - they will report on us!" One of the warriors protested.
"They would learn of our presence regardless. We do not have the means to kill all the riders," the ruler explained.
The ships anchored in a shallow bay near Maccuspura during a beautiful sunny afternoon blessed by good wind. Asend came ashore first, knowing the locals would be ready for him.
A numerous crowd of men and women already went out of the surrounding villages and thronged on the beach. Some of the locals drove with them the fat beaked herbivores, using them as javelin carriers. Many men in the crowd were armed and armoured in manner eerily similar to that of Asend. The faces of these men were also familiar. They belonged to the men thought lost during the previous expeditions.
A pair of kuripin came down from the sky, carrying Turopasil and Siňirup. Both quickly unfastened their feet and hopped off the animals ́ backs. Turopasil now wore a long garment sewn together from manz colorful skirts. Around his neck hung a massive necklace of worked stone plates and his arms bore armbands and wirstbands made in the same way.
Turopasil first put up a straight face, but soon burst into laughter and stepped out with arms open and embraced Asend. "Finally we meet again!" Said Turopasil as a greeting. "You took less men than the last time. Are you already running out?"
"Not at all," Asend replied, yet he did not disclose his intention.
Turopasil said: "We missed you, Urikepa most of all. She had many sad nights without you. We managed to get her another husband in the end."
"That is well," conceded Asend. "I was not ready for that at the time."
"That was the reason you left us behind and went away with the conquerors?" The local chief asked.
"I never thought of that," Asend acquiesced. "Maybe it was so." For one moment he took a better look at the Kuripin Siňirup was riding. He recognized his sky-stallion from earlier times. Kuripin still remembered him as well, as he looked back, purring contently.
Turopasil said: "Well, is you came to stay with us, you will have to change your name. Now I am called Asend."
Asend grinned. "I like my name and I kept it even as I came out of the egg. I think two Asends can survive on one island."
"But Asend can be only one!" Turopasil objected.
"And who says that?" Replied Asend. Then he told about the nature of his journey: "I came to make things right. Ever since I left the island, the world is off balance."
"We ́ve adjusted to that," Siňirup chimed in. From his unwelcoming stare Asend judged that the man is feeling uneasy about his kuripin recognizing his previous rider.
Turopasil had more welcoming hearing and let the Asend speak:
"I have a proposal. You will get one more Asend in exchange for two kuripin, a stallion and a mare, both in their youth."
"Or we can take you all hostage, as we did with the others," Turopasil said.
"My crew leaves without me. Neither your five gods, nor your riders will stop them. You are confined to your island and cannot set out on the sea. I can help you with that."
Turopasil demurred: "Why would you help us become even stronger? I see no balance in that."
"You need my knowledge and my people in my homeland need kuripin, so that they may scout your attacks and prepare better. Therein lies the balance. My people still rule the seas and so far, they are the only ones attacking."
Turopasil was smitten with such a speech. He already saw the glory and wealth in front of his eyes. Asend assumed, he would entice him so.
In the early hours of eve a great feast was held. Asend was welcomed by Maccuspura villagers as one of their own. The only one standing aside was the new shaman.
Upon a closer look Asend recognized the shaman as one of the men of the expedition of his brother twelve years ago. He was not surprised then, when the shaman talked to him in their mother tongue.
"What happened to you?" Asend asked.
"My predecessor was taken prisoner during the raid," the warrior-shaman said. "And I was killed during the burning of Maccuspura. I was waiting beyond the wall of death, so close to the belly of Messirisol, just for a right moment to take up a new body."
"Someone must have smitten your head mightily indeed," Asend judged.
"You think I forgot what you said to me in the egg? Your return will continue to destroy the balance in our little piece of the world," the shaman warned him.
Asend had many troubling thoughts he needed to put in place. His gaze fell upon the setting sun and ships that were loading two kuripin.
Asend finally felt free. No longer constrained by customs and power plays of his homeland he could freely and on his own climb the ladder of society as long as he could. He planned to rule the entire island by the time of his death, if Turopasil had not already done so.
Kuripin were his safety and a good-bye to home. After Asend, his younger brother will take the seat of power. He will survive Asend by few years and during those years the kuripin will mature and mate. Whichever side of the family will take the throne next, they will chase the other side out to the Island of the five gods, in exchange for more kuripin. Asend ́s people will be able to raise their own flock of the winged beasts and on their backs, one day they will again conquer new lands.