The Journal of Rishta Vallans documents the adventures and misadventures of a Merchant's League Agent as he travels through the Anhui States, in the 63rd regnal year of Emperor Received Wisdom. Each installment (to be published on a roughly monthly basis) will serve as an introduction to the various places along the river.

Part Eight: Tibra's Crossing.

"The soldiers of the Empire thought of their wives and husbands and children, and the divine fire of the Emperor burned within them as they fell upon the hated tlaxu like scythes upon wheat."

- From "The Epic of Ten Thousand Swords" by Orobap. Published in the 5th year of Bright Vitality.

ibra's Crossing is a place that has stubbornly clung to life despite long outliving its original purpose. Originally it was built as a staging post from which to launch a flanking movement on the Tlaxu horde attacking Ashoyin, then later used as a staging post from which to launch an assault on Vaarta (in one of those recurring historical themes whereby a successful defensive campaign leads optimistically yet foolishly to an unsuccessful offensive campaign). Now it exists as a distant trading post, overseen by a League Viceroy. Looking down from Stockade Hill to where huts, tents and raft-houses (making me homesick for Thievestown in Llaza) cluster at the river bend, one can see the long plaits of Plains Tlaxu, the round coloured hats of Kronlordan, the tall, dark cylindrical felt hats of the Vaartans from Beltavia Keep and the broad-brimmed woven rush hats of the swamp folk from the north.

From Kronlordan, there were only a few ways that our quarry could have gone. It was unlikely that she had doubled back to Nirhamsa, now that the authorities there were searching for her. The same was true with Tibrafes. By now the League courier service, mounted on fast shandix, would have reached there before her. Chances were she was returning to Ashoyin. Heading directly south through the mountains was dangerous, even in summertime, and slow going. So we had gambled on Mei-Juin (rather, the false Mei-Juin) heading through the low pass into the Far Anhui valley and south from there. If she had gone through the mountains we would still make about the same time. This was how we had ended up half a world and half a year away from Llaza.

Our guide was a man named Pollos, of small build and big attitude, with long braided hair and dressed in a close approximation of the robes of a Clerk of the Emerald Seas (despite plainly having never been near an Examination School). Nevertheless, being mostly literate Pollos made a living as a scribe and occasional seller of charms and mantras. A large number of his clients were tlaxu which, as he explained, was why he had grown his hair and plaited in their fashion. Just as he pretended to status amongst human society with his fake roabha so too did he pretend towards status in tlaxu society. We had been in Tibra's Landing about one week, long enough to learn that our quarry was not and never had been here when Pollos sought us out in some excitement and offered to show us a local spectacle.

Two tlaxu were going to settle a grievance in their traditional fashion - with a duel using the "long claw" spears. As we approached the designated battle ground outside the town (where a large crowd had already assembled) Pollos tried to explain the nature of the feud. The older of the duelists, a tlaxu who wore a variety of teeth, claws, beads, stones and feathers entwined in his many braids, was Tsesh, older brother of the other duelist Tsev (who had but two unadorned plaits that hung either side of his feline face). Tsev had been exiled by Tsesh, who had then gained mating rights to all of the sisters, but now Tsev had returned and was trying to claim one of Tsesh's daughter-nieces as his bride. Since she too was deemed the property of Tsesh, the only way to get her was with a fight.

Tsesh strode around the perimeter of the circle created by the crowd, puffed up with pride and twirling his long-claw negligently in one hand, as if it weren't as tall as him. Tsev seemed less confident. His posture was submissive as he entered the arena, but I noticed one important difference. Whereas the head of Tsesh's long-claw was an array of teeth and claws set to rip open an opponent, the younger Tsev's gleamed with a blade of metal.

The two tlaxu brothers circled each other for a while. Tsesh seemed to pay as much attention to the crowd as to his opponent, but I could tell that was a smokescreen. Tsev fell for it however and pounced, two hundred pounds of sandy-furred muscle. His older brother was ready for him, dodging aside and knocking the metal blade away. Tsev whirled and slashed again. This time Tsesh jumped back to avoid being disembowelled, span, parried with the butt of his long-claw and brought the embedded teeth down towards Tsev's head.

The younger tlaxu reacted in fear, ducking aside and raising his arm. The teeth caught him a glancing blow and drew blood with a vicious ripping sound. In anger he launched a flurry of strikes at Tsesh, ending in a powerful overhead blow that sliced right through the haft of Tsesh's long-claw as the older tlaxu raised it to block. Unperturbed, Tsesh let his younger brother get closer, then stepped inside the reach of his pole-arm and used the truncated upper portion of his own weapon to slice at his younger brother, now unable to block at such close range.

Terrible wounds were opened in Tsev's face, chest, arms as his brother battered him, and he was flung to the ground howling. The dry grassland was slick with blood. As Tsev was carried, still alive, from the arena Tsesh roared in triumph and held the two halves of his long-claw above his head as he strutted around the edge of the crowd. Pollos told me that Tsev would be allowed to live by his brother so that his scars could remind him of his defeat, and thus his place near the bottom of the clan.

For a moment I considered asking Tsesh if he fancied a career giving show fights back in Llaza, but at the last minute I decided that perhaps it would be safer not to deal with these people. I'd just seen how they dealt with disagreements.

Back next
Map of the Anhui States
Tibra's Crossing
Plains Tlaxu
Lake of the Flaming Spear