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The Chronicles Of Sekar
Chapter Three – The Laws of the Tribe
“Tell me, Sekar: where did you learn to play chess?” - his friend raised a tankard to him and began his tale:
I was born into a Southern tribe, the Alma-Uti people, just over twenty summers ago. Our tribe numbered around six hundred and we lived a tranquil life, in harmony with the jungle and at peace with our neighbours. We were ruled by a wise chief Ramul who, by our customs, was selected by contests of strategy in the game of chess. Our tribe's stories spoke of dark days in its past of war and strife before adopting this noble game as the means for resolving any conflicts; this change ensured that our warriors stayed alive to hunt and provide for the tribe, which grew strong and prosperous. In time, this became our First Law: all conflict shall be resolved by playing chess. The philosophy became central to our beliefs and we agreed truces with nearby tribes, who were glad of this as there were enough threats around to contend with and this gave them a safe border, once they were convinced of our good intentions. We swore oaths to our gods that we would not break our treaties and this became our Second Law: no conflicts to be sought outside the tribe. Our people lived simply, hunting monkeys, pigs and the occasional deer that wandered through our lands; most of all sacred totems in our hearts was that of the fierce and proud tiger which we would not touch. This became our final holy instruction, the Third Law: we would never hunt the sacred tigers.
We had a host of minor rules, concerning property ownership and respect for status, but these were mainly a matter of routine observance and were not hammered into us from an early age the way the three main Laws were. Growing up, I saw a number of disputes where one warrior would angrily seize up his chessboard and pieces and challenge an opponent who had slighted him. Regardless of the outcome, honour was seen to be satisfied, for this was our custom and the tribe all believed in it. Every villager knew the wisdom of our chief, who was seemingly unbeatable at chess and quick to apply his knowledge of strategy to supervising hunts and his insight to ruling on tribal squabbles. As a boy, I witnessed a challenge to his leadership, from the tribe's second best player Samarr. He spoke the ritual words and was allowed to play a six game match for control of the tribe; he lost four and drew two games – it was a measure of his own skill that he managed this good a result. There was no shame in the defeat, nor resentment afterwards; he remained the chief's closest friend.
The annual ceremony for passage to manhood was the most important part of the tribe's calendar, held on the longest day of the year. In the last few years of childhood, leading up to my fifteenth summer, I trained with six other boys of my age in throwing spears at targets and setting traps and snares – our goal was to be worthy companions in the hunts we could join once we were men. Again, of course, chess was an integral part of our preparations and we each had to carve our own chess pieces; we took great care in this as once they were carved, preserved and painted, they would be the sets we would defend our honour with for most of our lives. When the ceremony finally came we painted our faces and bodies with special designs to signify our mastery of the spear, the net and the pawn. We threw our spears under the watchful eyes of our training master, we demonstrated knots and snares and chanted the laws of the tribe in front of the entire village, followed by the ancient oaths of passage. This done, there remained only the most important part of the ritual: the symbolic bonding to the chief. Ramul came out in all his finery, in this way honouring us; he walked to where we waited, our heads bowed, making a show of inspecting us. Satisfied, he slapped a hand to his chest and seven women waiting off to one side ran into view with boards and our chess sets which were laid out for each of us, in a semi-circle facing our chief.
We sat, each terrified by the great moment that was finally upon us; we had witnessed it many times of course, as it happened every year, but none of us was ready for the feeling of actually taking part in this most revered of ceremonies. The whole village would witness our contests with the chief; we could not hope in our wildest dreams to win against Ramul but every move could be the one that elevated us to greatness in the eyes of the hunters we would soon join, who jostled each other to see – to see us! Well, no moment in my life could compare to that thrill. I was to be fourth to start and watched keenly as Ramul moved his pawn on the first board then strode on quickly to the next to make his same move there and so on. The first three candidate braves made their moves; I took a deep breath and steadied myself. I knew what to do here but I felt like I was standing on the edge of a pit, ready to jump in. I pushed a pawn in response and everything after that is a blur. I will not say I gave him a magnificent challenge but we all played our best and lost no honour. I was second last to finish against him, finally conceding in the face of an overwhelming attack some two pieces down already. When the last game finished Ramul bowed to us all and the tribe roared in joyous acclaim – the ritual was complete, we were men and would join our families in the hunts and for this one night were the honoured ones at the feast to come. The spears we had thrown at targets that night and before were anonymous; now we were presented with our own ones which we could carve our names and deeds into, as braves of the Alma-Uti tribe, to hunt and provide for our people.
In the weeks that followed we joined the other hunters and learned with them to wait in the overgrowth and time our spear throws. We memorised the layout of our animal traps and were allocated responsibility for checking, emptying and re-setting them. The days were glorious. Most of all, though, I had one particular quarry in mind and in the evenings I journeyed a mile to the east to a neighbouring village, where the lovely Lanita lived. She was a wondrous angel to my eyes, the same age as me but pulsing with vibrancy the way only young love can. I hoped, now I was a man, to bring her into my tribe – to prepare her for this I was teaching her to play chess, a custom her tribe did not share but which she was more than willing to learn. I met her, most nights, at the edge of her village and we skipped happily to a clearing we knew in the jungle. I found that in teaching her chess my own understanding was gradually increasing as I was putting into words the previously vague ideas I held about the game. So we learned together, on mostly different levels, sharing joy in our endeavours. They were a far cry from the warlike charges and thrusts of the games most braves would play against each other; they were some timeless beautiful dance, our patterns becoming ever more intricate and rewarding. In truth, Lanita was ready to demonstrate enough playing ability to join our tribe before long but our trysts of chess were magical and we kept them up, not wishing to approach her parents for consent for fear of rejection.
One moonlit night, in love with my Lanita and slightly distracted as our games had been rich and fulfilling with our bond growing ever stronger, I rose from our mossy floor to gather my things so we could leave and realised I did not have my spear – my ever present weapon against wild creatures was gone...I turned to her in my panic but neither of us could see it; I was perplexed and distraught, for like every warrior I was never more than a few paces from my spear and could not imagine the shame of returning to my comrades and saying I had lost it. Forlornly, we searched the clearing, the jungle about and the path we had taken there but could not find it. We parted, in sadness for the first time as it cast a shadow even over our shared happiness and I trudged back to my village where I lay sleeplessly in the hut I shared with two other hunters and puzzled.
I was woken the next morning by a rough shaking to see angry faces of my friends around me. I was hauled outside and tossed before Ramul. Bewildered, I looked about me. My eyes widened in horror. Draped over some rugs was the body of a tiger cub, our sacred animal, with my spear beside it. I realised in shock that I was accused of this crime and protested my innocence. It was in vain; the spear and cub had been found just outside the village and others had seen me enter the village late at night alone. My chess pieces were brought from my hut and I thought for one moment I would be allowed to defend my honour with them but I was far from the truth. The Third Law was broken and in the eyes of the village there was no defense to this. The pieces were cast into the fire and I could only watch as my carved symbols of honour were consumed. I was told I was no longer a brave and that Ramul would confer with his elders as to what to do with me. I could see no salvation for me and broke and ran. A couple of hunters tried to stop me but I evaded them, thrusting one to the ground. The chief called them back – why pursue me, where would I go? Without my tribe I was nothing; I had no spear, no home and no honour. I ran in the only direction I could think, to the village where my Lanita lived. As I ran I started to calm down and thought. There was no accident here, someone wanted me shamed. I had definitely had my spear with me the night before at the clearing so somebody had followed me and stolen it; no one from my tribe would have killed the tiger cub, it was unthinkable. Lanita might have some answer for me.
I raced into her village to where I knew her home was but when I got to the door her father was there and barred my way, telling me I was not welcome. I called desperately for Lanita and she came into view; I could see she had been crying but I could not get close to comfort her. I tried to explain to her father but clearly he was incensed that I had not sought his permission before courting his daughter and would not listen. I turned away, feeling doubly-wretched and saw a young man of her tribe looking at me, a sly smirk of satisfaction on his face. He gestured with his own spear and asked me if I had lost something. The pieces fell into place and I boiled inside with rage. Throwing myself at him, I knocked his weapon aside and proceeded to beat him with my fists till his face was pulp. I was hauled off him and bound. They took me back to my own village after his friends had delivered a few kicks to my chest. The young man I had beaten demanded justice, the same evil smile showing as he looked at me. I knew he wanted Lanita for himself and I had played right into his hands - my own reactions had ensured animosity in both my home and hers.
Ramul looked at me, angrier than I had ever seen him. I protested that the other boy had stolen my spear and made me look guilty but he shook his head. Samarr, his second, did point out that I was a good youth and that he found it difficult to believe these crimes could have come from my hand; this was small comfort as I realised I had given the chief no choice. They would not kill me, that was not the tribe's way, but I certainly had no place with them any longer. I was charged with breaking all three of the tribe's sacred Laws. I had killed the sacred tiger, I had sought conflict outside the tribe and I had used violence to resolve it. I was banished from them and after my few belongings were gathered, I was escorted to the north of the jungle where I was warned not to return or face maiming. I broke down and wept after they had left me alone: for my lost love, for my lost home, for the injustice of it all and even for the tiger. Eventually, I dried my eyes and stood. I had lost everything but I was still a man and knew I had honour even if the whole world was against me.
I walked on for a while, till I reached one of the main trade routes and met with a caravan of wagons. I joined up with them, labouring in return for food and shelter. They were good to me and I started after a few months to feel like I almost belonged somewhere again. It could never be my tribal home but the people were easy-going and the caravan master played chess; he was delighted to find another opponent in his workers and we played most evenings, learning a little from each other. I was taught how to use a sword in case raiders attacked and over the three years I stayed with them I gained a few scars but built up some muscle through the loading and various other duties I had taken on. At the age of eighteen I decided to seek my fortune in the wider world and parted ways. I travelled for another two years, selling my ever-improving services with the sword and seeking honest employment where I could across the realms, playing new chess opponents and learning their styles, which finally brought me here to Al-Rokh.
Sekar smiled to his companion Antim and waved his hand at the board, inviting him to play again, saying as he did “So, my friend, where shall we journey to next?”
Sekar didn't play defense too well, it seems. He left a door open for attacvk by not seeking girl's father's acceptance.
Give the guy a break, he was only 15 at the time. :)
I know one thing. Conan would return to the village, kick the guy's ass, and get the girl.
1) It's not Conan, its chess with loincloths on
2) Its Chapter 3, there are 5 chapters to come
3) Who needs girls when you have chess?
4) I never specified what kind of maiming was threatened if he returned.
Chapter four will come, but I am about 2000 words into it and its going slow. I have it planned out what I want to use in it, spent a while re-planning the last 5 chapters as I wasnt sure what stuff to use where, then took a break for about a week and since then life has sort of caught up with me. Plus I spend too much time reading forum threads.
OK, chapter four is written but its 8306 words - a lot longer than I intended - and I plan to check it over the next few days. Thanks for your patience.
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