If there was to be any elation at saving the white-furred aurochs, seeing the Third Spear, having a hand in making it happen, it was short-lived. Even Qemik slumped as he was manhandled onto the back of the wain, and did not put up a fight as his captor – the red-crested helm made it plain it was the man he’d unhorsed, though now that he had a chance to notice, he realized it was actually a woman – affixed the chain between his manacled wrists to a hook in the wain’s floor.
It creaked as it started to roll, slowly at first, across the plains. As it picked up speed, the jostling reminded them all of their aches and bruises. By now even Kumzu had suffered a few. There was a chorus of groans, and soon, silence, as they pondered their uncertain fate.
It was Oyana who started to speak at last, quietly enough that their captors, riding up front, might not overhear. “How did you get captured?” she asked Yîgeke.
“Well, I could hardly ride forever, alone, in the plains,” she answered bitterly. “Particularly with a half-dozen archers watching me. I had to leave the herd. The horse wouldn’t go over the crest. I would have been trampled if I hadn’t guided her out, and worse yet, the horse would have been, too. The archers were waiting for me.”
“But the white aurochs? It was swept to the crest?” Qemik asked, weary but still hopeful.
“It was,” Yîgeke answered. “And yes, it had a marking like a spear, down its left flank. Brown, and hazy, but definitely a line and point. The hide was shockingly white, and seemed unhealthy. Ragged, like it was falling out in patches. I hope the poor thing is well.” She had, only a few weeks earlier, helped her master and his hunters kill several, and had butchered them herself; yet the thought of one falling to illness, rather than a swift end from a well-placed arrow, troubled her.
“Then the prophecy holds,” Qemik proclaimed.
“Even if it does,” Yîgeke protested, “what good is it? The First Hand is now in the very claws of the lynx, a lynx long since awake. They’ve known about the prophecy all along, and they’ve been carefully ensuring that no one realized that they know. How can you think this can end well? The coming of the signs now is our death knell, not a sign of our rebellion. The lynx is awake, and all the sand-mouse has for a First Hand is me, and here I am, in chains.”
Even Qemik couldn’t muster enough determination to try to argue with her. They were silent for a time. Yîgeke peered out through a gap in the timbers of the wain. Some while later, she whispered, “Caras Lithgweth.”
“What?” asked Ulgî. At Kumzu’s urging, he’d given up testing the chains. Even his strength was no match for well-forged iron.
“Where they’re taking us. The city of the Ortheri Baugcaun. Why to the capital, I wonder? It’s a day’s ride even in a wain.”
“The Fourth Spear,” Qemik said breathlessly, but no one answered his observation.
They were silent a time longer. Yîgeke wondered to herself, and finally, she asked. “What came of Kargöz?” She’d been afraid the answer might be, as seemed most likely to her, that his body was cooling, arrows rising from it, near the boulders.
“Coward,” Qemik spat. “He abandoned us. Betrayed us. Showed his true colors at last.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Oyana protested. “Why would he have saved Yîgeke from those axe-men back in the city if he were a traitor?”
“Perhaps he’s the one who led them there,” Qemik answered. “Told them about the prophecy.”
“Then why fight them?” Yîgeke asked, wanting desperately to dismiss Qemik’s thoughts.
“Maybe he wanted to impress you,” Qemik answered. “Or he hadn’t expected them to go so far.”
Oyana tugged pointless at her chains. “But why would he? What’s his reason to do any of this?”
Qemik was at a loss to answer that. It was, surprisingly, Ulgî who offered an answer, though not intending to. “Why Möktîg did? Why any of our kind do?” While it seemed beyond reason for any of them, they had just seen a demonstration how some of their own people might stand against them. How they might feel more comfortable in the chains they knew, than to take the ultimate risk. And Kargöz had a kind mistress. He was given furs to sleep on, and rarely was punished despite being more defiant than most. Perhaps he’d preferred that life to the danger.
Kumzu also found herself wondering if he might not have chosen to sabotage their efforts to protect Yîgeke. He’d seen how much it pained her to be the First Hand, and he knew that the First Hand would be in grave danger. While she found she could, surprisingly, believe he might betray them, if he thought he was doing the right thing by doing it, she could not believe he was anything but deeply in love with Yîgeke. His eyes told a tale that could be naught but true. And love can, especially in perilous times, drive a man to acts he would never believe himself capable of. If so, the poor fool would be regretting his actions now. Kumzu felt sorry for him. Even as she was carried in chains to her execution, she could still feel sorry for the man who’d helped put her there.
Those chains couldn’t keep Qemik’s spirits down long. “Even so, fate will not be so easily stymied. We’ve seen three of the Spears, you cannot deny it any longer. The day has come. Somehow, we will triumph yet.”
Before Yîgeke could repeat her protest, Oyana asked. “How then can the First Hand be freed from this trap, to go on and cast to the clouds the Sixth Spear?”
They were silent a few moments. Then Oyana began to murmur the first words of the prophecy, hoping that it would clear her mind, or suggest something. “A day will come…” But she fell silent almost immediately, for at once, in harmony with her, a haunting, low, deep voice was speaking the same words. She stared raptly at Ulgî, astonished at his mellifluous recitation. The man usually couldn’t form a proper sentence, but of course, Oyana realized, he knew these words, as all the Haehînbór did; and when he spoke them, his voice was like the sighing of the earth itself.
A day will come, foretold by signs six in number, when the Spears of the Haehînbór shall challenge the sky, and on that day shall the fates of the Haehînbór and Ortheri be known. Not the wisest amongst the East or West may know how true the spear shall fly until it is cast. If it fly true, the Ortheri shall perish, their works rent by the sky until not one grain stands atop another, and none shall mourn them while the Haehînbór walk free beneath the stars. But take heed! False signs shall be seen; only when all six unfold shall the day be right. If the sand-mouse awakens the lynx, or hurls the spear too soon, the blood spilled shall not be Ortheri.
The First Hand shall fell, trembling, a beast of noble blood, within whose very flesh will be scribed a spear circled; and thus shall the First Spear be seen, and the First Hand known. From mud clinging shall grow the living Second Spear, straining for the bleeding moon. In a throng of thunder dark as a shadow and wide as a sea, a lone beast of white, marked with the Third Spear, shall be swept to the crest of the sky. The Fourth Spear shall fly, cast by a mighty bow, to shatter glass and set loose a flock of white birds across the sky of Caras Lithgweth. The sky itself shall cast the Fifth Spear to rend asunder the Ortheri Rhîs unto shattered stones. And at the last, the First Hand shall cry defiance to the sky itself, casting to the clouds the Sixth Spear from atop the Spire of Last Days.
This day shall come; no storm, no hand, no will, and no axe may stop it. The spear shall drink blood without heed to whose blood it is, and a people shall fall. Until that day, the Haehînbór must remain quiet as sand-mice, and let no word of these hopes reach the ears of the Ortheri, that they may revel in luxuries and be slumbering when the spear is cast. But if the people be unruly or riotous, the lynx shall devour the sand-mice, and the Haehînbór shall fall, sand in their breath, and perish unto the last child, to the end of days.
The others whispered the words, or simply mouthed them, in time. No Haehînbór could resist their call. Yet in the echoes of Ulgî’s voice, they murmured in silence, and when the last word slipped into the air and faded, there was a long, reverent moment of silence.
“If it shall come to pass,” Yîgeke said at last, “there must be another First Hand. For soon, we shall be put to the axe.” She was still peering through the slats. “Behold. Caras Lithgweth.”