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After Udan had shown to his legions the helmet of the elder ones, he commanded that a city be built there on the banks of the Mouy, to preserve the memory of the five holy women and to stand guard over the approaches to Mira-Thosh. He bade settle there eightscore hundred of his soldiers, the veterans of many a campaign in the east and in the west. And Udan commanded that a road be built from Ar-Sadrun’s city of Guth Arul to the new city on the Mouy, to bind the new lands together like beads on a cord.

– From the Chronicle of Udan


Murud did not share his commander’s dislike of the folk of Thoss. It could not be denied that they smelled differently, that they were differently shaped, and that their morality (as far as he could see) rested on very different foundations; but there were many things about them which he thought admirable. Their keeping to themselves, which had been styled a vice, seemed laudable – there was much to be said in favour of a race that refused so steadfastly to meddle with the affairs of others. The restrained manner in which they conducted their occasional business with the outside world; the absence of quarrelling among them; the neat rows in which they planted their fruiting trees and laid out the bones of their dead; these were things that appealed to Murud, who valued order and the absence of discord. These were the chief values of his own people, and these were the values that they had imposed on their neighbours, and then on more distant lands, and more distant lands still. At the cost of many thousands of lives they had brought those virtues here, across a great ocean and many ranges of mountains, to find them already practised. Practised without any sign of the Thudun urge to force them on other  people, it seemed; and this seemed to Murud both singular and praiseworthy.

Hindak thought the folk of Thoss cowardly, filthy, and ignorant. He would have agreed with Murud that the driving virtues of the Thudun were incomprehensible to them, but could not himself conceive of the lack being filled with anything but the base drives of beasts, something contemptible in any race of thinking beings.

The elders stared uncomprehendingly at Hindak, moving their jaws slowly from side to side as they thought. Fucking oblivion, thought Hindak, they look like beasts, any moment now one will foul itself where it stands and stand there looking at me with shit running down its legs. “I will say it again,” he said, loudly, in badly-accented Fip. “Your old masters have gone. You are not anymore slaves. Karba-Fip,” he made a dismissive slash with his left hand, “The White Emperor,” the thick fingered, calloused left hand of a soldier, “All gone. No more need you pay tribute to the White Emperor. You can govern yourselves in your own ways. Understand?”

Blank faces looked back at Hindak. Three great carts piled with tribute goods had already been wheeled out to a meadow nearby; the finer pieces had been picked out and laid on pieces of red cloth on the dry grass. The youngest of the elders, the one with green eyes, crouched down and pushed towards the Thudun commander the nearest piece, on which lay a clockwork Fip herdswoman and herdsman.

“No,” said Hindak. Exactly like my old tutor rejecting a composition, Murud thought.

“No, we don’t want your tribute. Keep it. I am Hindak of Az-Charn, an officer of my protector and yours, the illustrious Pharad. We have come here to free you from your masters and give you justice. These others with me are here to fight the soldiers of the White Emperor, not your people. This is Murud, a builder. Everywhere we go we build, we do not destroy, so that the people we free from their masters can trade more with their neighbours, can grow more food, and are more secure from their enemies.”

The sweat stood out on Hindak’s forehead. Murud sympathised with him, as well; they had come many leagues on short rations, and were after all under no obligation to explain themselves to these new subjects of Az-Gamar. It was devotion to an ideal of duty that brought Hindak and the others here, with stomachs soured on grey bread and fear for a camp of men stricken with fever.  “Oblivion! Do you think they understand a word I’m saying?”  mumbled Hindak in his own language.

Another of the elders bent down and picked up the herdswoman of polished wood. He pushed it into Hindak’s hands, making soft chuffling noises and nodding his head. A third elder took up the Fip herdsman, and started to approach Murud.

“No, no, no. You keep it!” Hindak shoved the figure back at the Taracen, who had to scrabble at his chest to hold on to it. The elder who had been approaching Murud halted. The other Taracen stared wide-eyed and dumb. Again, the elder tried to press the doll on Hindak, nodding his head rapidly and grunting.

“Sir, may I suggest we merely accept the tribute on this occasion,” said Murud, making what he hoped was an encouraging face towards his own doll-bearing Taracen. The commander did not seem to hear him, and lost his temper as the elder again waved the doll in his face.

“No, we don’t want your useless toys!”  Hindak exploded in the Thudun tongue, throwing the figure to the ground. It rolled to the feet of the elder with the green eyes. As the assembled Taracen stood stunned, this worthy gave a faint wail, and his bowels emptied.

“Animals, fucking animals!” swore Hindak. “Go to oblivion, the fucking lot of you!” He turned his back and stomped off down the hill. His harsh Thudun consonants lingered in the air, mingling with the involuntary laughter of the soldiers and the involuntary cries of the green eyed elder.

The Fip herdswoman lay on the ground, blind eyes looking up at the cloudless sky, two spatters of green filth on her brow.

The soldiers followed their commander, almost hurrying, and after an empty moment so did Murud. They must have thought we were going to kill them, he thought, walking down toward the river with the sound of his own heart loud in his ears. Kill them all right there. They had no idea at all.