Circumstances in Vinen worsened, Kazka saw it coming but could do nothing about it, and so when a fight broke out between some Tsuaru and Ymbal men she was not surprised. That was until the fight did not peter out but spread like wildfire.
Soon, it seemed, dozens from both clans were laying into one another and among them was her brother Teeson. She tried desperately to get to him and pull him away but he refused to listen. Consumed by anger he threw her off, it was then she realised he was no longer her brother but a stranger and so she watched; watched as Tsuaru and Ymbal tore lumps out of one another, beat themselves bloody, screamed, chanted and roared. Some of the women took part, most did not. And those who did not stood at the periphery slinging insults back and forth alongside encouragements. It was nasty to see how far the people of Vinen, of Simarachi, had fallen. They were civilised no more and yet Kazka stood there watching silently hand over open mouth unable to believe these were the depths to which her home would sink. If only she had known how right she was. If she had it is doubtful she would have been able to do much to change what was in store, but she did not.
It did not take, she does not think, long for the authorities of Vinen to descend upon the street brawl. The spark might have been a drunken argument, alcohol being one of the few things Vinen was not short on, but it was far closer to a battle when the guards started tearing one body off the other, screaming for peace as blood dripped off participants unwilling to relent and thus dragging the guards into the fracas.
For their part Kazka does believe the guards offered remarkable restraint, but they could not prevent the madness of the crowd. And when finally the violence was displaced and diffused a handful of bodies lay still and dead. The young Kazka’s reaction to the sight of them was not to scream or ball her eyes out like some of the women. No, instead she stared, long and hard at the corpses considering the pointlessness of the losses suffered. That was until a Ymbal by the name of Yenxi urged her to make her way home. He was a guard then but did not remain as such for much after that, though he would play an important role.
With the urging from the guard she did not know the name of at that time, Kazka retired to the house she and her brother shared. He returned much later, in the dead of night, but did not stay.
Were they still the same people Kazka might have tried to prevent his departure but they were not and she was so desperately tired from having worked in the fields picking what crops had not entirely failed from the first round of seeds sown.
Next morning the young woman was woken by a great many voices outside. She first wondered, while scrambling from the straw bedding and furs, if another fight had broken out. She soon got her answer when she stepped outside, no. There was no fight in sight, but there were all the people of Vinen lining the streets. Kazka realised just how few of them remained as she scanned the sight and it made her heart sink while the townsfolk cheered. Confused, the young woman asked a neighbour she did recognise, “What’s going on?”
“Lord Hiromani is here, he’s come to Vinen.” The excitement and joy in the woman’s tone was almost as surprising as the words she delivered in answer to Kazka’s question. It’s why she stood there blinking, dazed, frozen in place, ignorant of the cold air stinging her face. That was until it dawned on her she was ill-dressed for standing out in these climes.
Quickly she bolted back inside to throw layers of linen over herself and then wrap furs tight over the linen to shield as much of her body as she felt able to. Then worried she might miss Lord Fior Hiromani, a man she had never seen but heard a great deal about; as rightly she should as he was the lord of Samirachi, races back out to the edge of the street.
“Has he passed?”
“Not as yet.”
Kazka breathed a sigh of relief unable to clarify as to why seeing the man who protects the region was of such importance to her. She did not, enveloped in excitement, consider as to why he might he here. That she would soon learn, they all would.
Suddenly, horses covered in armour and finery trotted into view. Kazka could not help but feel a wide smile, the first in a long time, split her face. Many of those around her chanted and cheered as the guards passed them by.
But it is when Lord Hiromani drew near that they truly cried at the top of their lungs. Kazka did not join in, she simply watched in respectful silence as the lord passed her by. He was oblivious to her presence and unknowing of her name as he sat atop his horse, a grey colour, clad in full ceremonial armour with a long wispy white beard. The beard was the only distinguishing feature not formed from metal she found herself capable to making out. Yet, with him having passed the people of Vinen did not scurry back inside their homes. Rather, they followed Lord Hiromani.
It was most confused to Kazka. Her brow furrowed as proof and remained as so while she wondered why pursue the man. She was not left to consider the reasons for long as Tsuaru warriors on horseback informed and urged all residents to follow the lord of Simarachi for he had an address to give to them. The pink eyed woman thought that odd but with a guard eyeing her she felt compelled to close her door and join the peaceful mass of Tsuaru and Ymbal.
It strikes Kazka now that this was the first time in a long while she where she could recall both tribes being in good spirits and company with those surroundings them. She wishes it could have remained as such for this is how it had been in the years prior to the failed harvests. The effects of which were written on the faces of the people of Vinen who Kazka noted all looked pale, frozen, gaunt. The young woman imagines she looked no different for food by this time was rationed, doled out in equal portions to all who lived in the town. It was not much more than morsels but it sustained them, mostly anyway.
The graveyard must have be large by now, Kazka thought as she followed but did not share in the frivolity of cheering and smiles. Thankfully, she found she was not alone in her stoic compliance which took them to the centre of Vinen where the only square existed in the town. It was a place where the massings were held as of late, including the one that turned to angry words being hurled back and forth.
In the morning light it looked different to Kazka somehow but she could not put her finger on why as she watched Lord Hiromani disappear from atop his horse and then reappear a short while later devoid of headdress as he climbed a set of steps. The steps were part of the road, as she recalls; there are only nine of them, shallow and only just deep enough. Once atop them Fior looked out over the people of Venin, the faces, tired and dying. His head was shaven for his hair had turned to thin wisps of white.
In comparison to the others Fior looked well. He was thinner than he had been prior to the recent crop failure but not worryingly so, which is more than could be said for those gathered, excluding the Tsuaru warriors serving as his personal guards.
“People of Vinen… I am here to address a great concern which has reached my ears…” The orange eyed Fior paused. He did not need to and in doing so those gathered before him exchanged confused looks.
“…I am told violence broke out here yesterday.” Again Fior stops, unlike his head which is held high continually scanning from left to right and then back again to repeat the process over and over.
“This is a grave time for all of us. And we cannot be fighting amongst ourselves. As Lord of Simarachi I command you to remain at peace with your neighbours. They are suffering, struggling, as much as you. We should not, and cannot, allow these hardships to fracture what we have built. Tsuaru and Ymbal have lived alongside one another for centuries. Do not throw that away. Maintain the peace. Bring honour to your names and your families. We will get through this. We will survive. We will grow. We will prosper.”
Following his speech there was silence. When finally the silence broke it was done so by a question.
“Lord, how are we to survive when these lands are spoilt, rotten and food does not grow?”
Gasps fill the air but to his credit Fior did not demand to know who spoke. Instead, he considered the words for a time, whether truly or not he did so Kazka obviously cannot say, but once he was finished he replied, “We continue to persevere. If crops die, we replant. If soil hardens, we dig. For these are our lands and they will provide.”
“We should leave!” Someone exclaims without thought. They are met with cheers from Ymbal who were sick of being dictated to by Tsuaru, especially in a town that was largely theirs but that was fast transitioning to Tsuaru being the larger percentage of the town’s population.
“No! Lord Hiromani has spoken and he is right, we must remain!” Someone countered; evidently a Tsuaru voicing the ever persistent and consistent view that Simarachi is where they call home and so Simarachi is where they should remain.
Fior said nothing. It wasn’t surprising because he and his family are Tsuaru really. They are not Ymbal. There has never been a Ymbal serve as Lord of Simarachi because the mantle has only ever been held by the Hiromani family who have remained pure Tsuaru, unlike many families over the generations. At one time it had been suggested the dynasty thought lesser of the Ymbal people but there had never been any proof of that.
The Hiromani’s had always, since being installed as protectors of the region, remained neutral, supporting both tribes. Yet, Kazka could not help but note how the Tsuaru warriors with Lord Fior Hiromani looked well fed, rested, warm. True, Tsuaru in Vinen look the same as the Ymbal but is that because the Lord of Simarachi is favouring Pensaftu, a ‘village’ which is much more than that truthfully, because it is inhabited by Tsuaru only? She could not say then, but from the squabble currently taking place it seemed she was unlikely the only one considering such possibilities.
That was until Fior roared loudly, “Enough!”
In an instant the assembled crowd went silent with many shrinking in their boots as their Lord gave them cold hard stares. It was of the sort usually offered by a parent, a particularly stern one, who felt most disappointed in their children’s antics. It was something he pulled off effortlessly as he continued to not say another word for a long while.
Unsurprisingly no one dared mutter and so silence hung in the air, awkward and uncomfortable.
“I will be staying in Venin for three days to ensure there is no more violence. Any who dare violate this command will be dealt with harshly. Dishonour is not permitted in Simarachi!” His words were final and following them Lord Hiromani descended from the steps leaving the crowd to disperse, slowly.
Most heads were hung in shame irrespective of whether they belonged to the Tsuaru or Ymbal tribes.
For Kazka it lit a spark of hope that Vinen might be capable of staying on track. If it did she whole heartedly believed there was a chance they might make it through. More would die, of that there was only certainty, but at the end of winter Vinen would still be standing, affording the townsfolk a chance to rebuild. Unless another harvest were to fail; if that were to occur she doubted it would matter whether violence erupted or Lord Hiromani came for none of them would be likely to survive.
With the massing over, as short lived as it was; Kazka returned to her daily duties by first stopping at home and then heading to the fields. It’s where she spent another day, toiling away until she could no longer, at which point she headed for home.
Quite miraculously while preparing the meagre offerings doled out to her and her brother for dinner Teeson appeared. It was rare they spent time in one another’s company but for some reason this was one of them. Sadly it does not go well. Almost immediately it was evident to the young woman with pink eyes that her brother has been drinking. He was not sauced but a long way past cheery and adamant they speak on the topic of Venin, its current affliction and the best course of action.
It was as if, Kazka recalls, Teeson thought that they were the ones making the decisions as to what should happen next. They were not but still her brother, with his short dark hair and purple eyes continued to argue, “We must leave Simarachi.”
“And go where dear brother?” He was irate, she was not.
“Anywhere that isn’t these cursed lands. That’s why we can grow not a bean, you know. The Tsuaru think it’s a phase, one that will soon pass but it is not. I have been speaking with the men of this village, the real men, Ymbal men and we are of the same mind, Venin is doomed.”
“But Lord Hiro…”
“Ah, damn what that fool says. He is not our Lord, he is a Tsuaru.”
Kazka’s eyes went wide and her jaw slack for she could not believe the words her brother had just spouted. He might be right but to say such things was dishonourable. Which is funny because dishonour is a largely Tsuaru belief, not a Ymbal one.
“What? I speak only truth.”
“He is our Lord.”
“Only when it suits him he is.”
“Teeson you must stop this…”
“Stop what? Stop speaking the truth. I will not sister. Lord Fior Hiromani is a fraud. He is a Tsuaru and cares only about that tribe. He does not bother himself with us. If we all died we’d be doing him a favour.”
“So you say but how would leaving Simarachi be much different?” Kazka vividly remembers querying in response and in doing so was uttering a thought that had not crossed her brother’s prejudice filled mind. She imagines these were more the words of the Ymbal men he had been frequenting with than his own.
It had sickened Kazka to hear how brainwashed her brother had become but Teeson was his own man so she held no ability to forbid him from this dishonourable path he seemed desperate to tread.
“It would be different because we’d be alive Kazka, not dying in the dirt frozen by the cold winter’s air.” The words spilled from Teeson’s mouth with conviction. He clearly believed them and that terrified Kazka.
“You know they want us out, the Tsuaru?” He said those words with such confidence it’s were as if they were not a question at all.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it is the truth, sister. The Tsuaru have been talking. It’s why they refuse at every turn our wishes to leave. They are what hold us here, for they wish to take Simarachi for themselves.”
“That makes no sense Teeson, listen to yourself. If we wanted to leave we could, the Tsuaru have no hold…”
“They have control of the food stores.” Her brother blurted.
The young woman had not known that but he was correct the Tsuaru were the ones doling out the food. At the time, she thought, it meant very little in the grand scheme of things for it was paranoia, plain and simple.
Prior to this Teeson had never spoken ill of the Tsuaru, he never even divided the people of Vinen for in his mind they were all the same. Now they were not. He saw a clear divide where there should not have been one and rumours as if they were proven facts.
“Finish your food it’s getting late.” Kazka had urged trying to change the conversation and keep it from worsening.
“You’re not my mother; I will do as I please.” And with that Teeson dashed the bowl across the room, clear of the table it had been sat atop, and into a wall. Kazka screamed, Teeson stormed out angry without saying a word. It was the last time they would dine together but Kazka did not know that then.