Logo Image
Alkamar, the village in the moonlight

Sintaje knew the clan was dying. Scarface had returned, not looking at anybody, not saying a word, face closed to the world. And Sintaje knew that the bones of Little Eagle were left for mice and crows somewhere in the hills. With Little Eagle all hope for the clan had died.

His arms were heavy with sadness, and his head ached. There were no words in his tongue for what he had to do. Scarface had to die if the clan was to live. Sintaje did not believe he would win, but he knew he had to try. He had not the rage of Beak, not the courage of Sister Moon, and not the strength of Flat Face.

Sintaje had met other hunters in the hills, dangerous men, and he had fought the emperor's soldiers, but he had never feared anybody like he feared the chief. Not even Beak, when he was alive, had seemed as dangerous as the chief of the Rawhide Clan.

Sintaje knew tales of the mountain lion. If the mate was killed by hunters, the lion would hunt down the hunters, even venture into a village to take revenge. And thus had been the anger of Beak. Beak had wanted Omeh, and she had wanted him. They had a song in their hearts for each other. But Scarface had no song in his heart. It was as if he nourished on food that other men could not eat, as if the wind he breathed came from dead mountains and the water he drank melted from another, darker snow.

During the night Sintaje made love to Tamara, his wife, and when she fell asleep, he lay there listening to her breath. She was the song in his heart. He whispered his goodbyes to her, praying that he would lie beside her when the sun set the next day. And then he left the hut.

He stood there in the greying dawn. He didn't quite know why, but something was different in the camp. The others were sleeping, and all he heard was the chirping of birds mingling with the riversong. But there was a slight charge in the air, as always before a battle between Kraken's soldiers and the Rawhide Clan.

He jumped as he caught sight of a stranger leaning on a staff in the centre of the camp. A filthy, ragged cape with a hood covered his head and shoulders. The stranger stood quite still. Beside him stood another shape, smaller, but familiar. It was Little Eagle, thinner than before, eyes darker and cheeks sunken.

Something folded inside Sintaje, and he could not speak for joy. He remembered the time he had stood up too Scarface, the time he ran through the snow with a boychild under his heart. And then he could feel the strength of Beak in his arms, and knew why the mountain lion ventured into a village to revenge a dead mate.

And he knew he would fight Scarface with strength he never before had known.

"Little Eagle," he whispered.

The boy and the hooded man looked at him. Sintaje did not shout to warn the sleeping clan of this stranger among them. Instead he approached Little Eagle and the stranger cautiously, stopping a few places away from them.

The man threw back his hood and revealed a pale, dry face with dark almond eyes. The thin man did not belong in the mountains, yet he was not one of the Emperor's soldiers, and he was not one of the serfs that lived in the lowlands where Kraken ruled. This was a different man, a kind of man Sintaje never before met. It was as if he somehow carried the darkness with him, even in the midst of a sunrise.

"You must be Sintaje."

Sintaje was not surprised that the man could speak their tongue, even if the words sounded slightly odd, much like the way the very old and the medicine women spoke.

"Yes, I am Sintaje." His thoughts were racing. "How did you meet Little Eagle? Why are you here? Are you one of the Emperor's men? Who are you?"

"I am Shiriken. And I am no friend of the Emperor."

The wolf dogs had begun to bark. The hunters awoke and rushed out of the earthen huts with their weapons raised, but it seemed as though the stranger did not notice them. Among the hunters came Scarface. His face was dark and his eyes ringed, as if he had not slept for a long time, but that only made him seem more dangerous.

Shiriken stared at the chief of the Rawhide Clan, and then at Sintaje. "You will die, you know that?"

"What?" Sintaje looked confused.

"You are all ready to challenge him. But you will die."

Sintaje nodded. "I... maybe. But... "

"You should have killed him in his sleep," Shiriken said.

Sintaje shivered. "I... "

"Little Eagle told me you once saved his life."


"Today I will save yours," Shiriken said.

Everyone was surprised to see Little Eagle, but they were more surprised to see a stranger in the camp. The dogs hadn't barked, nor had the guards been alerted. Deep in the Mother Mountains, in the heart of the land where none but the ten clans could travel in safety, a stranger had found his way to their summer camp. They looked curiously at him.

"Where is Tyigh?" asked Scarface.

Two men ran off in search of the watch. Shortly afterwards they returned, supporting between them the staggering Tyigh.

"Everything went black," he said, shaking his head in confusion.

People muttered to one a another as they stared in wonder at the man in front of them. They formed a circle around the stranger and the boy.

"Who are you?" asked the chief finally.

"Shiriken," the oneramed stranger said. "And you must be Kajite, or Scarface, as people call you behind your back."

The scare flamed red. The chief was a head taller than the one-armed man. He knew he would be able to kill the stranger, but curiosity got the better of him. Before he died, the stranger would provide him with a few answers.

"What are you doing here in the mountains?"

"I once saved one of your clan from the Emperor's soldiers. Beak was his name. I came here to collect the debt he owed me, but since then I have learned that he is dead. Now it seems as though I must leave with my mission unaccomplished."

Scarface stared at him. "What are you doing with the boy? The boy belongs to me," said Scarface. "He ran away, but now he is back. Do you have no sons yourself? Is that why you go round stealing the children of others?"

As soon as he had uttered these words, Scarface regretted it. He did not understand why, but suddenly he was more afraid than he had ever been. I was as though he had been sleeping until now, as though a pail of cold water had roused him from a soft, warm dream.

The stranger's almond-shaped eyes changed. For a brief moment he stared at something in the past. When the gaze returned to the Mother Mountains his eyes glistened with venomous hatred. The dry skin tightened across his face. A slight smile played over his lips.

"You asked me what I did here in the hills. I came to fight Kraken, the Emperor."

"Here?" Scarface tried to laugh. "You certainly won't find the Emperor here, and his soldiers no longer dare to enter our hills."

Shiriken looked through the chief and spoke to the Rawhide Clan. "Oh, Kraken is here, have no doubt about it. He has looked hard and hungry at the Mother Mountains for many years now."

Still that slight smile played over the stranger's lips. Scarface felt it like the point of a spear to his stomach, and his scar glowed a fiery red. He wanted to harm the stranger, but found himself unable to move. His arms hung heavily at his sides. Cold sweat ran down his brow. Scarface smiled feebly, the way one smiles when one does not know what facial expression to choose.

Shiriken looked at him. "Why don't you show Kraken's emblem to the rest of the clan?"

Scarface bellowed. He balled up his huge fist and lunged forward in a punch that would break this thin stranger in two.

The whole clan remembered the morning Sister Moon died, the last person that stood up to their chief. They all expected to the oneramed stranger to tumble like a ragdoll. Afterwards they could have sworn that the onearmed man did not move, his dirty cape just ruffled a bit. But Scarface missed.

The chief grunted and fell to his knee, but he rolled forward, grabbed the heavy knife at his side and was up in one fluid motion.

Shiriken's cape billowed like the wings of a bat as he glided forward, under the arc of the knife, gently touching the chief's shoulder with his wooden staff. The heavy knife sailed through the air, and Scarface's arm dangled at a strange angle by his side.

One moment the clan was watching a thin, bent man, the next they say a dancing shadow with bat's wings and a whirling, humming staff. The staff shot out towards Scarface's left leg and caught him with a thud just above the knee-joint. There was another low humming from the staff as it struck Scarface on the right side of his neck, and the chief had to transfer his weight to his left leg.

When the leg folded Scarface sank to his knees, an expression of astonishment on his face.

"It is not helping you much now, the Raven, is it?" Shiriken asked, his thin smile gone.

He let go of the staff, and his hand opened towards the chief. Finger and thumb parted to form a semi-circle. The skin at the base of the thumb struck Scarface on the throat. Then he glided back.

Scarface raised both his hands to his throat. A gurgling sound came up through the burst windpipe, and the chief began to sway. The rest of his face took on the glow of his scar. Then he collapsed. His throat was swollen, and a trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth. Scarface gasped for breath a few times, but when the blood and water had filled his lungs he lay still.

The onearmed man looked disinterested at the body in front of him. He tore open the leather tunic of the chief, pulled the medicine bag from his chest, snapping the leather thong and throwing the bag to Sintaje.

"You have seen the raven before, have you?"

Sintaje nodded. He had seen the emperor's soldiers carry the raven banner into battle, not understanding what the piece of cloth could mean to anybody. But he knew the bird with raised wings.

"Open the bag, then."

Sintaje opened the medicine bag and found an iron coin stamped with a face on one side and a raven with raised wings on the other. He showed the mark of the emperor to the clan.

"Oh, Kraken is here, have no doubt about it," Shiriken repeated. "You are one of the free tribes left, and his hunger will not be sated till the last one of you is dragged in chains into the lowlands."

The Rawhide Clan stood in fear round the stranger that had killed their chief. They all breathed easier now that Scarface was gone, but it seemed this man had replaced one fear with another in their lives. Were Kraken's arms so long that they reached all the way into the Mother Mountains, into the very heart of the clan?

"Little Eagle told me about the clan, Sintaje," Shiriken said. "You will be the new chief. Flat Face is strong and dependable, but he is not wise. Brother Little and Brother Big are good men, but they are happy when others give the orders. You are still young, but you are popular, and you make others strong."

Sintaje did not reply.

"Let us discuss this in peace and quiet in your hut," said Shiriken.

There was great power in his voice. Listening to him, the clan understood why Sintaje was the right man to be their next chief. For four years they had done nothing while Scarface revenged himself on a dead man. Now they were all weighed down by shame. No-one had any wish to kill the stranger. Instead they stood back to allow him and Sintaje to pass through.

Little Eagle went with Sintaje and Shiriken. The clan knew not what had passed between him and Scarface, and how he had escaped, but they knew that the chief was dead now, and Little Eagle was not. Some feared the boy, wondering if he would somehow let this onearmed killer loose and take revenge on the clan. Others, like Tamara, did not know what good they could do for him. But Little Eagle ate little and listened mostly to the men talk.

"I saved Beak from a prison transport outside the garrison at Osho," Shiriken said. "That is four, maybe five weeks march from here. He was on his way to Kraken, to be killed in the arena by Shimoshe. That is far, far to the south-west from here."

"Why was a hill man sent to Kraken?" asked Sintaje.

"You are still free," Shiriken said. "Kraken he wanted a man from the ten clans to die in the gladiator games to show all that the hill people would soon be crushed."

"But why Beak?"

"His name was not important to Kraken, he would take any captured man. It was Kato and Kajite that traded him for the life of a few soldiers and a renegade."

"What do you mean?" asked Sintaje.

"You see, in the battle you fought with the soldiers, the battle where Beak disappeared, another man died. That was Old White, the man that stood between the brothers and their plan. That was the reason they set up the battle, so they could kill their father and make it seem like the work of the enemy. Beak was just a gift from them to Kraken. Even though it also seems that Kato wanted him off so that he could marry Omeh."

"How do you know all this?"

"When I had freed Beak, I questioned him closely about his people. He was taciturn, and it was a long time before I managed to persuade him to tell me about the way you live. But finally he told me the names of your hunters and your chief. He would not say how the soldiers had managed to capture him, but I just had to ask him who would be the next chief if Old White died. He paled then, and told me how he had been betrayed by Kajite, Old White's oldest son. It happens the same way all the time. Kraken always approaches the ones that are in line, the ones that stay awake at night with hunger for power gnawing their hearts. And do not believe that Kato and Kajite only wanted this one clan. In a war others will follow the Rawhide Clan. Their plan was to rule all the ten clans."

Shiriken shook his head. "I made him swear to approach the clan with smiles and to take his revenge by stealth. I told him there were bigger issues at stake than his pride. But when he returned, and found the wedding being prepared, he forgot all about his promise. When Beak returned, Kato died, and then everything went wrong. Kraken had not recieved his gift. And nobody trusted Kajite, not after he almost had been killed by Beak."

"But how did you free Beak?"

"I freed him at night, when most of the soldiers slept. And they never woke up afterwards. You see, like you know these hills, I know the darkness. Kraken may rule the world, but I rule the night."

Sintaje shivered and did not want to know anymore about how Beak had been freed.

"How can you fight the Emperor when you are only one man?" he asked.

"He is only one man too."

"It is rumored that he lives forever."

Shiriken shook his head. "No, Kraken dies like all others. But when he dies, his successor will take the same name, wear the same clothes, issue the same orders." He thought for a while. "Much like me and mine... " he added.

"Like who?"

Shiriken looked at the new chief of the Rawhide Clan.

"You can not imagine the reward you would reap for turning me in. There are riches in the world that you have never dreamt of, heaps of iron weapons to furnish armies of hill men, women that would beg for your touch, slaves that would obey your every wish. It would all be yours for the asking, if you betrayed me."

"I would never turn in an enemy of the Emperor," Sintaje said.

Shirken grunted. "They will come to you, now that you are the new chief of the Rawhide Clan. There are other men in the Mother Mountains that serve the Emperor, men that have been recieved here as guests, that have brought tidings between the soldiers and Scarface. How do you think they managed to find a hunter like Beak in the land he knew like his own breath? Scarface had these traitors looking for Beak from the moment he recovered from the wound. And when Beak and Omeh were found, they sent runners to the soldiers."

Sintaje paled. All these thoughts of traitors in the Mother Mountains were more scaring than any battle he could imagine.

"But what shall I do, when they come to me with offers? Go to war?"

Shiriken shook his head. "Oh, no, chief of the Rawhide Clan. Whenever Kraken's traitors among the ten clans approach you with silver tongues and golden offers, load them width gifts and food, promise your loyalty to the Emperor, and let them leave unharmed." Shiriken looked him straight in the eyes. "And afterwards you and your most trusted men must follow them in the night, and kill them without a trace leading to you."

"But why is the Eemperor so set on this clan?"

"If war came to these hills, the Rawhide Clan would be the clan to fight the longest and hardest. Others would flock to you. The chief of the Rawhide Clan would be chief of all the clans in the Mother Mountains. And soon there will be a war. You will do what Kato and Kajite did not manage. You must become chief of all the ten clans.

There are others who fight the masters of the world, but the free tribes live long distances from each other. The names of the Aroki, Fenni, the Gorotai and the travelling Rohini mean little to the hill people. You have never heard of Bürthe Kha-Khan and King Reidmar, but all of them are a part of the great chain which will unite the free tribes in the war against the Emperor.

For many years now the men of the wilderness have tried to forge the chain. Whether the messenger came from the south or the north he would carry the message further, so that King Reidmar of the islands could speak to the leader of the travelling Rohini. Thus Kraken would no longer be waging war against severed limbs but a whole body," said Shiriken. "Beak promised to take part in this struggle, but I should have realized that he would be unable to control his fury. Will you take the place of Beak, and be a part of the chain?"

"Yes," replied Sintaje at once.

Shiriken's almond eyes penetrated deep into Sintaje. "A new time is coming. Soon the old ways will be changed. Soon forces will gather against the Emperor, and then all must play their part. If they do not, all will perish. Do you understand this?"

Sintaje nodded.

"Oh but you don't," hissed Shiriken. "These are not empty words. One day I will ask you to keep your word, and then it will cost you far more than you can imagine."

"I will be a part of the Chain," Sintaje said firmly.

Shiriken gave a grunt of satisfaction.

"There will come a day when you regret having given me your word, yet you will keep it. And now no more talk of the chain. Tell me about the Rawhide Clan and what goes on up here in the mountains."

For the rest of that day the new chief of the Rawhide Clan told the stranger about life among the ten clans. He told of all their battles against the soldiers, how many enemy patrols they had encountered during the last few years, how many renegades there were. Shiriken's curiosity was never satisfied. He queried and probed, and often Sintaje had to repeat whole stories or sentences.

Little Eagle got up at dawn and scrubbed his rags in the stream. He rubbed clay all over himself until his skin glowed pink, and then submerged himself in the ice-cold water. He remained under for a long time, until all the fine grains of sand had been washed off. Then he combed his hair with his fingers and went over his possessions: two pins made of a bone, a small knife, a flint scraper and a pair of worn-out moccasins. Finally he wrapped them all up in a bundle.

Daylight found the Rawhide Clan still sitting sleepy-eyed around the remains of their campfires. They had without protest accepted Sintaje as their new chief. They understood that things would never be the same for them again, and wondered what the two in the tent had been talking about all through the night.

Shiriken was the first to emerge. His cape flapped loosely around him and he supported himself on his staff. Then came the new chief. Usually he smiled and laughed a lot, but now the tribe saw that his expression was solemn.

In silence Little Eagle walked forward from his den, his small bundle of belongings over his shoulder. There was fear in his eyes, yet the boy kept his head high as he stared at Shiriken.

"I will go with you and become like you."


"You said that you fight Kraken. And you said that Kraken sent the soldiers after Beak and Omeh."

"Kraken did not know that your mother and father existed. He thinks only of whole tribes and empires that stretch from one end of the world to another."

"But it was his soldiers?"

Shiriken nodded.

"Then I will kill this Kraken," Little Eagle said.

A great weight seemed to descend on Shiriken. His face seemed to grow older and more tired.

"Stay here, Little Eagle. You have slept out enough. You have suffered enough dog-bites and been kicked enough times," he whispered. "Scarface is dead now. He will never walk in your dreams. There are people that will love you. If you go with me, you will never meet them. Then you will always hide your face and your heart. Stay here."

Little Eagle shook his head. "I go with you."

Shiriken straightened, and his face was hard again. "Kraken does not fear me anymore. But you... You will be the last one of us, Little Eagle. And he will learn to fear you. In the end, he will know nothing else."

With the son of Beak at his heels, Shiriken set off walking southwards. A short distance from the camp they stopped, and Shiriken took Little Eagle's bundle and threw it down a gorge.

"You have no further use for those things."

Little Eagle said nothing.

"And your name, it belongs here, not where we will go. From now on your name is Tonteh, pupil."

The boy still said nothing.

Shiriken handed him his staff. The heavy stick was twice the length of the boy's body.

"This will become a part of you," said Shiriken. "It will be with you wherever you go. In the beginning it will be difficult, but all things are difficult in the beginning. And one day you will know how to touch the wings of a bird with the staff."

Sintaje watched the onearmed man from a southern land and the eight-year old son of Beak. He continued to peer after the wanderers until they were just two black specks disappearing down the valley.