GINGHA AND HER two companions walked slowly, single file and alert as they picked their way along a narrow ridge high above a low place. The smaller of the two walked between them, a younger in training, Gingha’s charge, and the other a seasoned warrior of her tribe. Behind them the sky darkened and when shadow fell on them, Gingha turned abruptly and looked to the sky. She stifled a gasp as an orange hue manifested in the coming storm.
“Quickly!” Gingha called. “Get under! Get under!”
Her companions needed no urging. The weather deteriorated rapidly and became so bad that even deeply furred ones such as they sought haven. Far worse than the sudden storm, the wind brought with it a dreaded Kanata deluge. They searched for shelter, any shelter.
“There, in the cliff face, a cave!” Gingha called.
They ducked in, the last of the three casting a furtive glance over her shoulder; assuring they had not been seen.
They found the cave already inhabited by two not of their own. The heavily muscled light beige spotted Man’ruh were enemy, but the greater danger lay outside in the green-cast sky and viciously heated air.
Once beneath the overhang, the striped ones laid their weapons aside at the entrance and pushed furry appendages out in front of them to indicate truce. The two inside made a similar gesture, and the three piled in.
“The seasons collide,” Gingha said to their new companions, “and with them bring our common enemy.”
“Yes,” said the larger and older Man’ruh, “and thus, according to the Principles, a truce we shall have.”
They huddled in the small mountainside cave, feeling most fortunate in finding a craggy overhang to protect them. Pungent smells of rotting vegetation from the low place assailed their scent openings.
The five now, again according to the Principles, introduced one to the other in ritual, first the newcomers.
“I am Gingha. These are Longha and Tiningha. We are Or’ta.”
The massive one spoke in ritual. “We are Man’ruh of the steep highlands. I am Slango, and this,” he hesitated briefly, “is Rolfo.”
They were not friends. Each knew the others’ race. Were they not deadliest of enemies at any other time? Still, the Principles required it, and none would harm the other while weather and Kanata conspired against them. The Principles ascribed to by all four-limbed species on the planet required that the five act as friends. All under such bond, enemy or no, must individually and willingly sacrifice themselves to the good of the group.
A great Kanata storm could kill them all and thus the Principles had come about in ages dimmed to memory on Yurth, fourth planet of Aspar in the Condescension of the Little Kingdom, and it preserved life. All intelligent species respected the Principles.
If they survived their bad luck, they would give each other courtesy distance and go about their business without looking back. If they met again after the confluence of the twelve-moon, yet two days hence, they would be enemies again, looking for a first kill. The Principles guided them all.
“It is the worst, truly,” said Rolfo. The young Man’ruh, evidently out with his tribe’s prime warrior on a first mission, blanched. Thought of the deadly Kanata nearly within reach of his long, grasping appendages caused him to arch his flat-eyed craggy mane and he tried mightily to swallow his fear. Thought of the Kanata’s malevolent needle beaks resounded within his head.
“It will surely be our ending,” young Tiningha added, multiple eyestalks waving wildly. She sounded scared, not like a warrior at all. Gingha looked at her sharply. Tiningha calmed instantly. She made a head-butt gesture of respect to her leader. Gingha sniffed and looked away. Tininga would need to be spoken to, but later, in private. Her show of fear had diminished her.
Gingha concentrated two eyestalks on the Man’ruh, but neither seemed to notice or care. Placidly she settled near but did not touch young Rolfo. Even conventions had limits.
In the cramped cave the enemies regarded each other casually. Too greatly directed by the Principles to even consider the subtlety of a sneak attack, Longha squatted next to Gingha along the smooth wall of the cave. Tiningha found an uneven alcove close to the entrance. She worked her black and gray body’s motive appendages under her. Then she retrieved her barbed hunref and handed those of her companions to them. Now under convention, they would use such weapons only for protection against the Kanata. She noted that the Man’ruh’s stone-headed bludgeons lay within easy reach between them.
The Or’ta normally grew to a height of ten feet. Longha and Gingha were adults, and Tiningha, not yet grown at only eight feet stretched high, had been given in tutelege to Gingha. She fit the alcove with sufficient comfort and made no sound otherwise.
In the liquid pitch of their tongue, Gingha, not unkindly, said to the young Or’ta, “Your closeness to the cave entrance is dangerous. Keep quite still, Tiningha.”
“Yes, my leader. It is your will.”
“We must not attract attention. The Kanata’s sensors are keen.”
“Yes, my leader.”
The wind outside of the cave screamed. Rolfo, only five of his mature seven feet of height gained yet in growth, turned and spoke to his mentor. “How long will this last, Slango?”
Without answering directly, Slango mouthed the question to Gingha. “Gingha of the Or’ta, when you entered this safe place, did you know the direction of the winds?”
“Yes,” she answered, “from the north.”
“Aeii, it bodes not well,” Slango replied, and set about explaining to Rolfo how the turn of the weather came from its direction. “From the north means that the winds and their deluge of the Kanata insect will last long. We are well protected here, but hunger may come to us long before the deluge ends.”
“I hunger at this time, Slango.”
“You will hunger greatly before our misfortune releases us all from this storm, I fear.” But there was no fear in his voice, only sadness.
Longha spoke, mostly to the two youngers. “The principles require we act as one against the common enemy. This allows conversation as with friends. For this time, let us not huddle mute, but seek the rare companionship allowed us.”
“Yes,” said Slango, “In that the Or’ta are wise. Our needs cannot be fulfilled; thus a rare opportunity exists to learn of our races without hostility.”
It is good,” said Gingha. “I wish to tell a little of our race and why we must be enemies. Perhaps Rolfo will learn from this. Our Tiningha has much also to learn. As leaders, it is our responsibility, Slango.”
“We will hear of your words and I will follow in kind.”
So began conversations that lasted into the darkness that followed day and through the night. Wild winds buffeted the cave and the mountain shuddered continuously, but the cave held. Thrown together by chance, the small band of five kept their voices only just above the roar beyond the cave entrance and tried to block their fear of the night and the deadliness beyond the cave opening. In the light of the following day, the storm continued.
The Or’ta were trained to deprivation, as was Slango, but Rolfo, yet too young to have faced such hunger, complained loudly. “I must eat, Slango. I am to die, I think.”
“You are facing your first test, Rolfo. Now you must be silent and show our guests how we Man’ruh can put away hunger.”
Tiningha said to Rolfo, “I am only one season away from the entrance to adulthood, Rolfo. I have learned much in that time. I will hope that our paths never cross after the storm releases us and the twelve-moon is past. I cannot believe that it would feel good to take your life, not after this night.”
“Appreciation from Rolfo,” he returned. “It would be a hope I could harbor in this cave and on this day that our paths never cross. Appreciation to Gingha of the Or’ta, too, for the lessons she has taught. Slango has been thorough, but an Or’ta perspective I could never have known.”
“Nor I,” said Slango. “In my many seasons on Yurth, I have often fought the Or’ta and have thus far survived. They are fearsome fighters.”
He tilted his massive head toward them in respect. “I can now say of the Or’ta that we understand the message of our births as different creatures of our world, and why we must remain enemies. Although it is a sadness that such as we cannot live without contest for that which our races need to sustain us, we understand. Slango and Rolfo have learned much this day and in the night past.”
Gingha replied, “Also the Or’ta could wish it different. We are not unkind. Perhaps someday…” Her thought was left incomplete, because at that moment a sudden stillness descended on the cave.
“Tiningha, move carefully to the cave entrance and assess.”
“Yes, leader.” The younger Or’ta disengaged herself from the alcove where she had waited patiently after Gingha’s command of the night before, and fluidly moved six feet to the entrance.
“It is clear, leader,” she said. “Wait…” She leaned further, extending her long frame out beyond the overhang.
Gingha felt a sharp foreboding. She issued a fierce command. “Tiningha, no!”
Too late! The rock Tiningha’s appendage rested on crumbled. She partially turned, a look as close to surprise as were Or’ta capable, and disappeared.
The Or’ta leader lunged for her charge, again too late! Tiningha tumbled out and fell onto the pathway that had led them to the cave. Gingha dived for the opening, looked out, and saw what she feared most. The lull in the storm ended. With eerie keening sounds, the Kanata winged along with the returning winds. Tiningha lay unprotected. The Kanata saw her. They dived for her position, needle beaks with saw-tooth rippers extended.
At the entrance, Gingha looked back with agony on her upper features. “I am responsible. I must save!” She grabbed her barbed hunref and charged out into the storm of death.
“No!” with a roar, Slango bolted toward the light.
Rolfo stood; fear etched on his face, but grasped his bludgeon and began to follow. They were held back only a moment as Longha followed her cub leader out of the entrance, no thought for danger or the safety of the cave.
As she left, Gingha scooped up Tiningha’s weapon and thrust it at her, then parried the two-foot long Kanata insect that drove for her head. Gingha stood at half height, swinging and moving her sinewy body at great speed, successfully fending off the horde that drove on her. She used the hunref like a long stake, barbed end and knobbed butt swinging, connecting time and time again, and the sickening smell of juiced Kanata rained down on the exposed Or’ta.
Slango and Rolfo emerged and took stances facing the oncoming cloud of Kanata, leaving only enough room to swing their bludgeons.
Longha found a place below the fallen Tiningha and tried to create for her a safe zone so she could rise and join the fight. Tiningha, with only a moment of free time spied an area near the rock wall beyond the direction from which they had come. It had a level surface and an out-jut.
“Gingha,” she called, “a fighting place, better! Follow my voice!” She knew getting back to their shelter would mean death. The mindless Kanata insects would charge the opening and work their way into the cave, filling it while trying to rip the five to pieces. The five would die, horribly mangled or they would suffocate, should they succeed in killing enough to buffer their hiding place with dead bodies.
Too busy to even look around, Gingha said, “Gather and go. We will follow.”
Tiningha gathered herself and made it to her upright stance. She started a battle chant known to the Or’ta.
Swing and slash
Cut and dash
Weave and present
Death to the enemy
Kanata are old
But we are bold
Or’ta will hold
So to defy the odds
Death to the enemy
The little fighting force made its way to the cleared, flat area, battling desperately to stay on its feet and still make every swing and smash count. Hunger injected its cruelty in their minds and the night gone had sapped some of their strength. Still, they fought like the legendary Scoothos, great animals of the far south, one horned, practically immortal and totally without fear.
Now the other two Or’ta started singing and soon even the Man’ruh picked up the rhythm and started to sing in their lower register. Or’ta song they had heard before from afar, but never in memory had any Man’ruh joined in. All around them the bodies of the Kanata lay, some moving still, but unable to fly. The Man’ruh clubbed them when they could.
Suddenly a break appeared in the oncoming Kanata. Gingha the leader, tired but not daunted, looked up and realized that when the next group came at them, they could do something!
“Fighters all, I have a revelation. A break in the horde descending on us now means that the storm is nearly over. We could win! We could live! We shall fight as before, but we shall move this way and that as one entity to the limits of our space and we shall smite the horde and we shall tear holes in it. We shall disrupt them and we shall win, we shall win!”
From every sound-producing orifice of the two species came a mighty shout! The Kanata closed in once more. The five moved as Gingha commanded with renewed energy. The song began again, verse after verse. They fought hard until their sun shone halfway in the sky above. They tore holes in the Kanata storm with every swipe. Each took painful injury and the fluids of their bodies leaked into the rubble of the Kanata piled high around them, but they would not stop.
Then, with all nearly overcome by exhaustion, the winds slowed, became gentle and the last of the attacking Kanata were gone.
With another great shout they looked after the retreating horde, and they shook their weapons in defiance a last time, the Kanata now only specks in the brightening vault of heaven. Soon the murderous scud left their vision and the clear yellow-green sun of Yurth shone on them. Man’ruh and Or’ta cleaned and applied the healing forest ferns gathered from the steaming low place to the wounds on their bodies.
Elation swelled them. Victory!
They spent time in appraisal of their win against the common enemy. Then, knowing they must return to their homes, the Man’ruh and the Or’ta turned from one another and slipped away. The Principles required they never look back. The confluence of the twelve-moon approached.