At my statement, Giro looked as if someone had punched him into the gut and heavily sat down. Yuka was scowling in distaste, but joined us nonetheless.
“It’s old business. I thought it was long over, over and forgotten.” Giro started. “The chief of Adernas is simply the first amongst the elders, the one who voices their consensus and can act as a tie-breaker. My father was highly respected and a great warrior and hunter. It is because of him that I am the chief, but I’m lacking the strength to command respect by force. Tulak is older than me, and more powerful, and he believed that he would become Chief after my father died, but it was not to be. I became Chief, and he’s resented me ever since - but once one is chief, there needs to be a reason for change.” he explained.
“You see,” he continued, “I am a competent administrator and negotiator, which helped Adernas in trades and day-to-day business, but not so much when push comes to shove - so when our village was attacked about twenty years back, shortly after my father’s death, the fighting was brutal. and both his younger brother and his wife died.”
He shook his head, appalled that a tribesman had held a grudge for so long, letting it fester for decades and was now trying to take revenge against his son.
“You said that the decision was made by the elders, if the challenge was valid. What would happen if he offered you his vote in exchange for stepping down as chieftain? I doubt that Rai could win against Kallik - nothing against you, Rai, but he is far more experienced.” I suggested a possible plan laid by Tulak.
“I… I would accept and step down. Being chief is not worth my son’s life.”
“Which would mean that once you stepped down, Rai’s life is in Tulak’s hands. And if he suggested the course of action to Kallik, only to hoodwink him, who’s to say that he won’t do the same to you?” Yuka tossed in, completing my train of thought admirably. “This is bad business - bad business, I tell you.”
“In addition, once you stepped down, who’s to stop him from using Rai’s original cowardice against both of you? The winds told me that nobody has ever managed to redeem himself. Could he bring that up again?” I asked.
By now, Giro was looking truly troubled and Rai looked just defeated. He had suspected that it would not be as easy as his father had hoped and it was getting obvious just how difficult it might be. For me, my gamer-sense was tingling, it sounded like a chain-quest to help Giro strengthen his position and cement Rai as the next chief. I had to fight the smile Adra had accused me of having.
“So, Giro, what are your plans? I promised Rai some help, if need be. But that would happen as long as we are in the area, before we move on.” I offered, presenting a possible solution, without truly saying what we could do. It would be bad to overplay my hand by offering to simply assassinate Tulak and Kallik, even if I had little doubt that we could manage. Neither seemed to be as strong as the Jonari-Chieftain, not by far. It might leave them strapped for combat-strength, but that was a problem for another day.
There was a twigging of discomfort, not internally within me, but almost as if it was projected from the outside. It did not feel like Lenore’s feeling, but more like… the one time I had somehow linked to Sigmir, connecting to her mind? Or maybe her soul. Looking at her, she had her hard and stoic face in place, but looking at her eyes, her eyes told a different story. It only took me a moment to realize why.
She was thinking of her father, asking herself if at the main-table of the Jonari-Chieftain’s house a similar gathering had taken place, calmly planning how to make sure that their plans were successful, no matter who had to die for them. The idea that we might carry out an act so similar to the one sealing her father’s fate was causing her enough mental pain to transfer to me, even if she would not speak against me, thanks to her convictions concerning oaths and her life-debt. She would follow me into her grave. And if I ever did something so vile that she could not follow me? I had a strong feeling that she would rather kill herself than betray her oath to me.
“Could… Could you…” Giro tapered off.
“Grow a spine, boy. You want to ask them if they could simply kill those two and all that oppose you, ain’t you?” Yuka broke in. He seemed to dislike the idea but was aware that sometimes conflict could only be ended by ending one of the conflicting parties. Giro looked a bit stricken when Yuka was so blunt, clearly stating the fact of the matter.
“Yes, that.” Giro admitted, still not able to say the words. Yuka gave a snort of derision. I was just about to start negotiating for a good price to take care of his little problem when Rai broke in.
“No! I cost the tribe the best hunter already. Do you really think that their families would sit by if the two of them were slain? They would want to find the culprit, they would demand justice.” His voice was strong and determined.
“What would you do?” I asked, curious if it was simply a childish outburst or if he had thought about it.
“I… I will leave. I thought about it a bit, especially after what happened in the cave. That I want to become stronger and to do that, I need to train and to travel.” He exclaimed, making me think that it had been a childish outburst after all, but his next words changed that idea.
“You said you would help me. So, help me, take me with you and train me. I have seen you wield your two blades, I have seen you move. You are mainly a spell-caster, but still able to hold your ground in melee range. If we announce that I have redeemed myself of cowardice but taken on a master to grow stronger, would they dare to attack father, knowing that I might become stronger than all of them? Could they attack father without my weakness in the picture?”
My gamer-senses were confused; either gaining a side-kick / trainee / group-member or possibly gaining a couple of the precious few quests? From a long-term cost/benefit analysis, taking Rai was probably better - at least if I managed to bring him up to speed skill- and level-wise - while the quests would add some strength to the group immediately, in the form of precious EXP.
Looking at Giro, he managed to look relieved and apprehensive at the same time, while Yuka slowly stroked his beard, obviously thinking about the idea.
“You are aware that we will be gone for a long time? That the journey we are on can easily kill you, without you ever seeing this village again? Even that it is quite likely that it will kill you?” I asked.
“And that taking on a master is not a step easily taken? Taking her as your master, will bind you to her, until she releases you. And even afterwards, she will always have been your master, a figure as respected as your father.” Yuka threw in.
I looked at Sigmir and Adra, trying to gauge their reactions. Adra looked quite happy, probably because she would get to keep her warm hug-pillow while Sigmir looked relieved. She would have preferred to take Rai with us, even if he was still his bratty self, if it meant that there were no killings carried out within the clan.
“Yes, I know that it is not an easy step. I have thought about it for days, ever since I saw her in a serious fight. Here in Adernas, nobody even uses two blades, but she wields them with lethal grace and deadly skill, a shadow in the night - but a shadow that reaps lives.” His voice had an admiring, almost worshipping quality to it. I was reminded of an article I had once read, talking about the ‘damsel in distress’-trope in storytelling as an extension of the suspension-bridge effect known in psychology. It could lead to a sort of co-dependence, something I would have to watch out for, if I wanted Rai to stay his own being. If not, I might be able to nurture that co-dependence and gain a loyal… follower.
Looking back, I could see that he had always done whatever I had asked of him, that he had seemed happy when I asked something of him, sometimes to the point that I imagined a tail wagging behind him.
“If you are certain that it is the road you want to travel, you can join us. I’m certain you will grow strong on our travels. For it is either strength or death that awaits you on our road.” I said, a grim smile on my face.
Now, it was up to Giro to decide.