“Mother,” Bekai’s tail flicked in distress as she spoke hurriedly. “You can’t fight. Kahtash can handle the war on her own, there’s no need for you to get involved. You’re too important to all of us to risk in combat.”
Kahtash nodded solemnly in agreement. Nearby, Dahlass looked upset and agitated but didn’t voice her concerns. Pinrakt was her normal self, present at the meeting of Lament’s leaders but barely paying attention as her tongue flicked out and tasted the night air.
“Daughters,” Threedak’s head bobbed as she acknowledged their concerns. “Our tribe is not yet large enough that we can afford to have a queen that rests on her laurels. I’ve fought and killed more Dhajtel than anyone else here. I will keep myself safe and do my best to ensure the safety of my daughters.”
“At least let me outfit you for proper armor,” Bekai shuffled back onto her hind legs, reaching out plaintively with her graspers. “I’m not capable of anything truly complex yet, but my apprentices and I have almost perfected our new blast furnace. From there it’s just a matter of figuring out the correct coke mixtures and we’ll be able to make steel for you.”
“I appreciate the concern,” Threedak responded, shifting her bulk upon her couch. “Truly I am blessed to have daughters who care for me as much as you do, but I do not see the need to delay. My leathers have protected me since before you hatched. There is no need to delay operations just to replace them.”
“Please,” Bekai turned her head to Kahtash. “Sister, tell Mother that we have time to make her a set of armor. Talk her out of this foolishness.”
“Bekai is right,” Kahtash’s deep voice filled Lament’s amphitheater of governance. “Right now we are only sending out scouts to figure out the position and numbers of the surrounding tribes. We won’t be ready to actually attack until spring at the earliest. Your leadership and help would be appreciated Mother, but there’s enough time to prepare.”
“Listen to Kathash and Bekai,” Dahlass flicked her tail as she spoke, visibly nervous. “No one is as key to the tribe as you Mother. The idea of you being hurt or killed in combat makes me physically ill. We need your presence to keep us steady. Even if we would still have you as a memory figment, it wouldn’t be the same.”
Threedak paused, letting her daughters’ words flow over her. The torches of the amphitheatre lit the five couches of governance, padded constructions of hartden fur, kithra feathers and wood. Her couch, that of the executive, sat on raised dais of bricks with the couches of industry, military, administration, and the arts sitting a step or two below her. Behind them in the darkness her other daughters sat on the nearby hills, observing the proceedings.
The amphitheatre of governance had been Dahlass’ idea, one that Threedak heartily endorsed. As the Queen of Lament, she had final say in any proceedings, but she couldn’t be everywhere at once. Instead, her first born served as representatives of the various elements of Lament’s society and advised her in weekly public meetings. The process didn’t dilute the concentrated executive power that Dhajtel society would need to survive the coming years, but at the same time it kept all of her daughters involved and invested in the process of governance.
“Fine,” she agreed, inclining her head toward Bekai’s couch. “I will participate in the attack but it will be delayed so that I might be better outfitted. I would see my next generation of daughters arrive from the swamp before we set out anyway. It just wouldn’t be right for them to join Lament without me being the first Dhajtel to welcome them to our fold.”
“In my absence,” Threedak continued, speaking over the murmur of agreement from her daughters, “Dahlass shall be the executive. She runs most of the day to day of Lament anyway so putting her in charge won’t be a major change for any of your routines.”
“But Moth-” Dahlass squeaked, her tail thrashing dangerously.
“But nothing Daughter,” Threedak interjected, chuckling at her distress. “You’ll need to learn to speak up for yourself at some point. I know that you’re shy, but you are more than capable. Your ideas and counsel has aided me immeasurably. It’s simply time to force you to the front so that Lament as a whole can benefit from your wisdom directly.”
Dahlass’ eyes flicked from side to side, seeking support from her sisters only to find Bekai and Kahtash nodding in agreement.
“It’s the right choice Sister,” Bekai flicked her tongue at the nervous Dhajtel. “I’m too headstrong to lead. When I get an idea I worry at it like the last piece of meat on a bone until I come to a resolution. It’s a good trait in a crafter or a scientist, but I recognize that it makes me a bit disagreeable and prone to distraction. Kahtash leads in her own way but she isn’t equipped to fashion and design an army. Pinrakt’s head is in the clouds working on her secret project.”
“But,” Dahlass sputtered helplessly, before leaning back into her couch. “Fine. It makes sense. I just don’t-”
“I know,” Threedak finished for her daughter, smiling warmly at her. “The plan has always been to make you my second. Your hesitance has only confirmed that. Any Dhajtel that would jump at the opportunity, snapping at scraps of power, wouldn’t be fit for the role. Lament needs a firm hand, one that will rule it without corruption or self-interest. It will be easier to develop the steel your spine will need than to hammer the right mindset into a stronger personality.”
Dahlass signed in defeat as Threedak looked on, the glow of maternal pride in her chest. All of her daughters had grown and accomplished so much. Soon another round of daughters and the first of her granddaughters would join Lament. Soon the City would be growing exponentially as her granddaughters and great granddaughters began joining en masse.
She glanced briefly up to the stars in the night sky. Where once they seemed full of wonder and awe, completely beyond reach, tonight they were just a little closer. They may not be far down the path, but Lament was firmly moving toward a future of science and industrialization.
The winter was bitterly cold but blessedly short. Kahtash’s hunters couldn’t venture out to gather fresh meat in the biting cold, so Lament had to rely more on its game stock than Threedak would have liked, but before long the winter was over and Bekai was fitting her with an outfit made from soft worked leather to wear under her new armor.
The armor itself was made from interlocking plates of steel, leaving her joints largely exposed. Bekai was incredibly apologetic about her inability to finely work the metal enough to create proper joints, but Threedak was more than happy. The entire process was a testament to Bekai’s accomplishments and care. After years of laboring on her own to create Lament, it felt good to let her daughters fuss over her for once.
In what seemed like a flash, Threedak found herself standing in the desert night next to Kahtash and five of her hunters. Each of them wore leather armor with metal bars embedded in it, darkened with soot from Lament’s fires. All but Threedak had spearthrowers and quivers with six iron tipped javelins as well as heavy spears that required both graspers strapped to their backs. Threedak felt a little out of place with the sword that Bekai forced upon her and her stave sling, but together they would be more than enough for the trial ahead.
Threedak gazed down at her former tribe as they huddled around their cave entrance tearing at the remains of some desert scavenger. They didn’t even bother to post a sentry as all of them frantically tried to consume as much meat as possible. Periodically the feral Dhajtel would snap at each other as each of them tried to ensure that they ate enough to sleep with a full stomach. The only exception was the tribal priest who sat to the side, leisurely consuming almost half of the total meat, a daughter beside her.
Threedak snorted in disgust. Even years later, the tribe continued its same backward patterns. None of the Dhajtel but the priest received enough food and few if any of them survived long enough to lay more than a couple clutches of eggs before being consumed by the tribe. There was no growth or challenge to the priests, just a steady continuation of their line at the expense of the rest of the tribe. Their way of life was a dead end, one that would hold the Dhajtel back and impede their growth if allowed to continue.
She puffed her throat pouches to their maximum size before letting out a bellow of challenge that reverberated through the empty desert night.
“Meerlaj!” She shouted, her voice startling the feasting desert tribe. “I issue you a challenge. Lament claims this desert. Give us your memories and the rest of your tribe may survive as part of Lament. If you fight, the result will be the same. You will just waste my time and patience.”
The old priest squinted her eyes into the desert night, trying to make out where Threedak stood on the nearby dunes. Around the priest, the twelve other members of the tribe dropped their food and frantically scrambled for their weapons, a motley collection of stone tipped spears and clubs made from animal bones.
“Show yourself interloper,” Meerlaj’s aged voice croaked in reply. The priest stood on her hindmost pair of legs, balancing herself with her tail. Clearly she was trying to impose the attackers with her bulk. Admittedly, she was huge. Fattened on the years of labor and sacrifice from her tribe. “The will of the desert will drive you away. If you leave now, we won’t pursue.”
“Enough of this,” Kahtash mumbled, chopping her arm down toward her hunters. “The priest rambles and puffs her pouches at Mother. Silence her.”
Silently, five spears traced through the night sky toward the confused camp of the desert tribe. They were far enough away that even the experienced hunters couldn’t all hit, but two of them did. Meerlaj suddenly sprouted two shafts, collapsing to the sand with a warble of surprise, her tail thrashing in agitation.
The rest of the tribe paused, staring at their dying leader dumbly before they tried to make out the source of the attacks. Their answer came in the form of another wave of spears, the wooden throwers whistling slightly in the still night air as the hunters spun them to propel their payload at their waiting opponents. Another two Dhajtel fell to the sand, spears sticking out from them as they writhed.
One of the desert tribeswomen pointed at the dune the hunters stood on and exclaimed with a trumpet of alarm. They charged, only for another three to fall as a third wave of spears landed amongst them. The remaining eight, puffing with exertion from climbing the shifting sand of the dunes at full speed reached them.
Threedak swung the awkward sword. It wasn’t balanced nearly as well as the blades from her human memories, but she would never tell Bekai that. As far as her Daughter was concerned, the weapon was perfect and her armor fit perfectly and without chafing. She was simply too proud of how far Bekai had come to ruin her elation with minor complaints.
The blade cut through the spear thrusting toward her, the mismatched and untreated wood no challenge for even the simplest of steel. Her opponent gaped at her for a second, eyes nictating in wonder as she stared from the broken spear to Threedak and back again.
Threedak didn’t give her an opportunity to regain her wits, instead thrusting the sword forward through the tribeswoman’s chest. The scales only resisted the sword for a second before the hilt of the blade slammed into her torso. She tried to bleat in surprise, failing as her collapsed lung struggled to fill her pouches. Threedak withdrew the sword before slashing downward. The blade bit into her opponent’s neck, eliciting a fountain of blood as the injured Dhajtel fell to the sand.
She rocked forward with a dull clang as a club struck her in the back of the head. Threedak spun around, locking her eyes with the tribeswoman behind her. The Dhajtel scurried backward, dropping the club. Idley she noted that the club appeared to be carved from the femur of a starvok. She kicked the weapon aside with her middle legs as she stalked toward her assailant, sword in a guard position.
“Mercy,” her opponent squealed, throwing her body flush to sand in submission. “I beg, mercy!”
Threedak stopped, her blade still pointed at her surrendering foe. The three other surviving members of the desert tribe capitulated around her. Of her daughters, only one had a cut on her forearm from one of the tribeswomen’s spears. Other than that, the desert tribe was subdued without any further difficulty or casualty.
She paused on the dune to observe the nine bodies littering the sand, crooning to herself. Lament’s first conquest was complete. Her daughters would eat well this week.