In the period when Skara becomes colder, before Celem reduces the length of his path when ice and wind bring stiffness and death. That was the time when the savages from the mountains descend to the plains to pillage and burn.
Na-Swan-se says she was not yet of age. She had never left the island in lake Nagaco, where her people dwelled, and ever since she was old enough to watch the Na-Shime depart the island on watercraft she wished she could join in—like the young Na-Shime.
So as often as she could, Na-Swan-se asked to go along. She practiced the arts of the Na-Shime, catching the waachi, throwing the long wakat and running along the shore north of Nagaco with the other young Na-Shime. She outpaced them all every time, such was her strength.
This did not escape the Elder Na-Shime, who watching in surprise. They said—she is as strong or stronger than any of our young Na-Shime, why should we not make an exception to our customs? But Na-Swan-se’s matriarch said No, the customs must be maintained, or the fabric that makes the Shinse strong will begin to unravel.
Na-Swan-se felt a great shame at this. For though she was in the form of a Na-Shizu she did not feel like one.
So Na-Swan-se decided, if the elders and the Matriarch would not permit her to join the hunting party, she would go alone to prove to them her strength far surpassed even the bravest Na-Shime.
In the cover of darkness, when Celem slept, she selected all the tools she would need: a long wakat, a short wakat and all the dried Waachi she could find, wrapped in a hunter’s blanket. She put them in a watercraft and left for the far shore.
It was not long before the Na-Swan-se was in total darkness. With no direction the watercraft proceeded any which way. That was, until the fierce East Wind, which whips across the plains like the stroke of a wakat, pounced upon Na-Swan-se. Na-Swan-se says it was the first time had ever felt the feeling we call Fear.
The East Wind blew and blew for what felt to Na-Swan-se like an eternity. Many times it threatened to turn over her watercraft, but Na-Swan-se persevered.
Then, with a great crash in the darkness, the watercraft struck a rock and fell apart, casting Na-Swan-se and all her possessions to the merciless waters.
Her instincts awakened, Na-Swan-se swam, the long wakat in her hand, in the direction the wind blew, hoping it would lead her to shore.
It was in such a manner, cold and exhausted, that Na-Swan-se did reach the rocky shore. She crawled up over the battered rocks and fell fast asleep in a crevice.
When she awoke, it was to find the wind gone and Celem high in the sky.
Not a hundred lengths from the shore was the rock that had caused her misfortune. There, nestled on the rock, Na-Swan-se saw the blanket with the dried Waachi.
After some deliberation, she decided that though it was almost the period of coldness, she needed the waachi and blanket or risk disaster from want.
Without a second thought, she shed her garments and dove into the water. Little did she know a party of brutes were encamped near that spot and had heard the splash.
Thinking it was a waachi and encouraged by their hunger, several of the brutes moved to the shore to catch it.
Na-Swan-se, accustomed to swimming great distances was thus progressing when a great weighted net trapped her. She struggled and struggled but to no avail. Length by length the net was brought closer to the shore by the hungry Khärn.
One can imagine their surprise when the brutes found, instead of a waachi, a young Na-Shizu, let alone one bearing a blanket full of dried waachi.
They carried her, unconscious, to their camp—presumably after devouring the waachi and casting away the blanket.
Na-Swan-se awoke, a noose around her neck, which was tied to a post. Her hands were bound behind her.
Around her, lying on the ground by a big roaring fire were the hideous Khärn. We Durno are all familiar with their description—red-eyed beasts with brown colored hides for skin, scraggly hair, sharp teeth and extremely large muscular bodies. Apparently this description fails to encapsulate their true ugliness.
Na-Swan-se remembers the sight being a most overwhelming nightmare. Though a youth of admiring strength, she passed out from the feelings.
She awoke to the feeling of her bonds loosening. A curious savage had undone her wrists and was engaged in an inspection of her limbs. It sniffed her hair, his rancid breath causing Na-Swan-se to gag. He pinched her skin and lifted her limbs one by one, inspecting her like our mothers inspect purchases in the market.
The Khärn had drawn his sharp flint dagger and was poised to dispatch Na-Swan-se, his hungry eyes flaming, when with a swift blow that made the rocks tremble a much bigger Khärn warned him off.
Na-Swan-se had not learned to decipher the Khärn language at this point, so her memory recalled only the brutish guttural barks and snarls that our Hrônd make – especially when they are hungry.
The smaller Khärn yelped and turned on the bigger one. They squared off for battle, while the other Khärn formed a circle around them.
Na-Swan-se says these are common amongst the Khärn as a means of determining dominance and resolving disputes.
In the Khärn language—for which I apply the Durno alphabet, since it is not written—these events are called Blüt. Na-Swan-se says they occur often and are a chief source of entertainment.
The Blüt commenced—since Na-Swan-se was inside the circle she observed everything about the rituals, some of which is supplemented by her life in the Khärn mountain city.
It may surprise, but when Khärn prepare for a Blüt, they shed all of their weapons. They place them on the edge of the circle, and turning to them is but one way for a Khärn to capitulate. This does not stop the brutes from using them, and depending on the mood of the crowd, determines whether a Blüt loser retains his life.
The Blüt then starts its intimidation phase. The two combatants circle one another, slapping parts of their bodies and making what are no doubt fearsome noises. This gets the crowd going—and helps determine the likelihood one way or the other on the fight.
It is up to crowd when this ends—they cheer and bang the ground and make all kind of sounds until they wish to see the fight, at which point they fall silent. This quiet is of an extremely eerie nature, confirmed Na-Swan-se, and it shows the icier side of the Khärn personality. That first Blüt, Na-Swan-se said, began in such a silence. The smaller Khärn, who evidentially was what we might call the challenger, was the first to attack. He made a great lunge forward, arms locked in order to throw his larger opponent off balance.
The bigger Khärn had almost anticipated this move and jumped backward to avoid the blow while at the same time grasping and pulling the smaller Khärn farther forward. The pull ended with the larger Khärn delivering a sharp blow to the face with his knee.
Na-Swan-se’s memory of this fight is better than later encounters she watched—though she did have much to offer about the techniques Khärn use whilst grappling each other.
It is brutal and unsparing, for though it doesn’t use weapons it does involve merciless beating.
Such was the way this first Blüt came to its end. The smaller Khärn flattened to the ground by the larger, who also slammed the younger’s face against it until it was but a pulp.
Na-Swan-se later understood that she ought to have been relieved. The fight determined whether she would be treated as food or not, but at the time the brutality was more than she had ever witnessed.
As ruthless as the Khärn are, they waste nothing. Na-Swan-se says the dead body was used as bait to trap the leaping Fadül of the plains. The idea of feasting on flesh that had recently consumed a brother did not seem to bother them.
Na-Swan-se’s fate was set. Little did she know how much more she would experience, and suffer.
Earlier, I wrote of the Blüt and the fact that Na-Swan-se was the subject of this first example of Khärn brutality.
Later, she learned, mostly by observation, that the Khärn who had saved her was in fact a lieutenant of the great Khärn chief, called Hrackakhärn. As lieutenant, the big Khärn enjoyed many benefits, he slept closer to the fire, mated with whomever he wished and ate bigger portions. He was also obligated to find Hrackakhärn gifts.
Na-Swan-se would be such a gift, but not before the hunt was over.
The lieutenant, whose name was Hrackamül, took Na-Swan-se into his possession. From that time on, no Khärn dared touch her, unless they desired a Blüt.
The legends of Khärn brutality are difficult to overestimate. We Durno recite them as a matter of course to make sure young ones never wander away alone.
There are of course the tales of the Khärn disemboweling enemies alive with their claw like hands and jagged weapons. This method of killing on the battlefield is meant to awe the enemy into submission.
Khärn are also known to drink fermented blood, and among many of our scribes it has been debated whether this is why the Khärn are so large in size and ferocity.
The testimony of Na-Swan-se at this point allows us to clarify much about these people.
But first, let the account of her journey continue.
Na-Swan-se, in the possession of Hrackamül was required to do things that demonstrated her slave status (none of which, surprisingly, involved violations of her body).
No, Na-Swan-se on this point is very clear: Khärn lust for blood, not bodies, when it comes to other races. That is why they are not known to keep prisoners alive. Na-Swan-se later understood that Hrackamül kept her alive thinking perhaps she would serve as a special delicacy to be enjoyed by Hrackakhärn in their mountain home.
The duties she was required to perform included preparing Hrackamül’s food (cooked food on the hunting trips is a major luxury for Khärn), keeping his weapons clean and sharp and entertainment by the fire at night.
Na-Swan-se’s first time “entertaining” the Khärn almost took her life. A serious nature, Na-Swan-se did not take to dancing and making sounds, which is what the Brutes desired from her.
The period of darkness increasingly brought more cold. The Brutes had built a larger than normal fire to offset the fierce wind off the plains. The Khärn sat around it in a tight circle, grunting with each other in a bored manner. Finally a small fight looked like it would break out. Hrackamül—in no mood to watch a Blüt—barked loudly and went over to the post where Na-Swan-se was shivering uncontrollably.
Hrackamül yanked on her rope so hard she was knocked over, and drug her towards the fire.
With a slap of the rope Hrackamül pointed at Na-Swan-se to stand, which she did, trying to cover the fear and shame in her face with the mask of calm used by all Shinse—they call it Go-na—and prepared for whatever was to come next.
The Khärn no doubt seeing what Hrackamül meant, began to call and chant enthusiastically. Hrackamül began barking and gesturing wildly at Na-Swan-se. when she did not move, he became angry.
So Hrackamül whipped the cord binding Na-Swan-se, aimed for her feet.
Na-Swan-se, agile as ever, leapt before the cord could thrash her.
The Khärn hooted with great pleasure, so Hrackamül continued lashing Na-Swan-se’s feet, one side at a time with increasing rapidity.
Finally Na-Swan-se could no longer take the torture. She leapt high in the air, somersaulting around her outstretched, and bound, hands. At the same time she jerked with her hands on the rope.
The move must have surprised Hrackamül, for the rope came lose from his grip.
Na-Swan-se remembers the sudden freedom of movement caused her head to swim with a deep and powerful feeling. It brought her to a fever pitch. She said with its power, and better judgment, she might have escaped captivity altogether.
But instead her anger made her want revenge. She swung the rope, cracking it like a whip—choked on a battle cry and lunged for the nearest Khärn dagger. With luck, she did grasp one off the gurdel of a smaller brute near the circle.
Using the dagger, she sliced free her hands and began moving around, the dagger and a length of the rope in her hands.
The brutes made a great deal of noise. Little did Na-Swan-se know at the time it was because they were enjoying the show—even Hrackamül.
Then Na-Swan-se’s blade sliced at a Khärn shoulder. The wound was deep and the Khärn shrieked in pain.
This caused even more uproar in the crowd. The smaller brute who pursued her with the blind blood rage the Khärn are so well known for. Na-Swan-se tells us the Khärn word for it is near to their word for Blüt, but uses a guttural sound we do not cover in the Durno alphabet—I have invented the character ʛBlüt.
Na-Swan-se says the brute pounced after her in the open space, but since she was quick she managed to keep out of his reach. This happened several times before finally the brute, panting, watched her. The crowd cajoling him.
The brute’s movements became slower. At one point he made as if to pounce, but stopped himself. Na-Swan-se says she jumped high into the air to avoid him and was caught—the Brute had successfully calculated where she would land. In the jarring impact, Na-Swan-se says she lost the dagger and her inner wind.
Gasping for air, she felt her time had come. And still, she had the length of cord in her free hand. Before the brute could press her limbs to the ground, Na-Swan-se succeeded in wrapping the cord around his neck. Grasping the ends of the cord with both hands, she pulled and pulled. Na-Swan-se says at that point she was beyond sight and hearing and feeling—in the place where Go-na comes from and where all Shinse believe they go upon leaving their senses.
But of course, Na-Swan-se came back, only to find the brute’s dead body sprawled over her and a ring of curious brute faces above.
Na-Swan-se says after that, the Khärn treated her better—like we might a favored Hrônd. They fed her from the hunts and tied her by one limb instead of both.
But Hrackamül never left her alone, and if ever she made to struggle, he would inflict a fearsome beating upon her body, just like he did regularly with the other brutes.
It was not long before the Khärn hunting party, having captured a sizeable herd of Fadül began to turn back towards the mountains from which they came.
Rising up out of the sheltered rocky area near the lake they journeyed for several passages of Celem to the places filled with statues and ruined buildings that, according to Shinse lore, was built by their ancestors, the Zem.
Near that place is a flowing water much like the Aren that crosses our lands and brings life to Jotheim. There, the Khärn stopped.
Na-Swan-se says she was allowed to go into the flowing water, though it was colder than the East Wind at the time of Celem’s departing. Submerging herself, Na-Swan-se heard a familiar sound—her people’s Toki, a system of sounds used to communicate.
Looking up to the rocky moors—hardly a thing grows in this land—Na-Swan-se recalls seeing some of her kin: they had seen her and though they did not move a muscle, they were making the unmistakable noises fabled to be out of the range of Khärn hearing.
Na-Swan-se washed and washed, waiting for her kin to act. Finally the brute holding her long cord yanked on it angrily to come back.
As she was moving slowly to the dry land—Shinse long Wakat filled the air, raining down on the Khärn encampment.
The attack took the Khärn by surprise; many were pierced.
Even so, they quickly gathered their weapons to retaliate, scaling the rocky moors with an eagerness akin to hunger.
Na-Swan-se does not recall the battle, for as soon as it began, she dove into the flowing water. The Brute had let go of the rope so she was freely making her way downflow. It was so strong she remembers hardly being able to keep her head up above it for inner wind.
Further and further she went, though her swimming only grew more desperate. Suddenly, with a great sweep of the flow just ahead, she was stopped. The flow swept violently over her, dragging her downwards.
Na-Swan-se says she remembers thinking the rope had been caught in a crevice. But then she felt herself being pulled against the current.
A familiar claw-like hand grasped her limb and hauled her up out of the flow, like a shivering Waachi.
It was Hrackamül, his red Brute’s eyes gleaming.
He growled something and then struck Na-Swan-se into the place of Go-na.
The next thing, Na-Swan-se says she remembers was being tied up against a post in the old way. Across from her, hanging from poles, were the corpses of her kin.
The Khärn bustled about preparing to leave. They ignored her anguished crying. Na-Swan-se says she had almost forgotten the feelings of home, so deep she had buried them inside her spirit. Seeing her kinsman trying to save her brought those feelings painfully back.
But she would have little time for grief. The Khärn were readying themselves to enter the Rhozha mountains before the East wind became more violently cold in the period of Celem’s absence…