Osta-Kahn and Xubachu were as different as two people could get. Osta-Kahn was a boisterous fellow, with a clear singing voice and a fondness for the fiery drink of the Savo. The “Fruit of the Root” held little appeal for the dour Xubachu; it was not sweet like the mare’s milk of home. Mare’s milk would warm the stomach and spread gentle wellbeing throughout the body. The firewater of the Savo would burn through the stomach like a meal of glowing coals, and go straight to the head. One was befuddled before one knew it.
While Osta-Kahn (Osti to his friends, which quickly included the entire Kung Sah party) was engaging in games of chance and telling outrageous stories, Xubachu would sit a distance away and watch the stars. While Osti would sit astride his elephant and sing the sad and plaintive songs of the Savo, Xubachu would be riding around the perimeter of the group with his eyes scanning the horizon in a relentless search for trouble.
If ever two were born on opposite sides of the world, then it was these two.
Yet the warrior and the caravan leader found each other good company. Often, when they stopped to rest along the way they found themselves lapsing into easy conversation. Osti’s grasp of the Kung Sah tongue was a marvel, and away from the crowd he could be as thoughtful as Xubachu was. He knew elephants, and was as at ease upon one of the great beasts as Xubachu was upon his horse. He rode a huge female, the matriarch of the herd, and as she obeyed Osti, so would the herd obey her. Sometimes, to stretch his legs, he would walk along beside her with no more concern than one would walk beside a dog, and they would commune through touch and voice like old friends. Not for Osti the sharpened stick and the bone hook; he would ride her bare handed, and only need his voice and the touch of his knees.
Xubachu was in awe of Osti’s mastery of the elephants. And Osti was equally in awe of Xubachu’s horsemanship.
Xubachu and his horse were a single animal as they prowled the steppe. The reins would be slack and four eyes would scan the horizon for enemies. Xubachu knew his mount, and the mount knew him, and they were closer than any husband and wife. Xubachu thought nothing of rubbing down his horse every night and washing the grime off him in the river. The horse thought nothing of carrying Xubachu without complaint and meeting his every whim with lightning speed.
The distance passed swiftly as the caravan moved toward the land of the Kung Sah. Xubachu’s scouting group acted as outriders and screen, with the elephants moving in the middle like a convoy of land ships. They smelled the jungle long before they saw it, and when they saw it Osti exclaimed aloud what a beautiful sight it was. The green wall rising out of the sea of grass looked too solid to penetrate and was so perfectly even it could have been a painting.
There was commotion in the mining camp when they reached it. The camp was still trying to settle itself in and the elephants added much to the confusion. The elephants enjoyed the shade and found the fodder plentiful and succulent. And in no time at all Osti was plying the warriors and miners with the Fruit of the Root and games of chance. To Xubachu it was like letting a wolf loose in a herd of she-goats. Though the Kung Sah were as crafty as anyone alive, they were no match for Osti-Kahn. The Kung Sah were as helpless against him as the Aisharians were against the Kung Sah. But to Osti, it was like bringing light into a darkened yurt. These Kung Sah needed to see the work of a Master.
Now it was a matter of waiting for the main body of the tribe. Xubachu would see his wife again, and see how his children and grandchildren had fared. He would become reacquainted with his yurt as well. He hadn’t slept in a comfortable shelter for months.
He hadn’t realized how badly he had missed the old woman and the hearth. Silent, unflappable, Xubachu found himself anxious.