The young prince Klaspet the Wingrider brought down to an oasis in the middle of the desert. The hippogriff was exhausted, and had to have something to drink. It leaned down to drink...and was pounced on, instead, by a sphynx. The hippogriff gave a terrifying cry as it died, and the Wingrider, Jathiki, stood with his knife ready, to defend the child with his life. The sphynx got closer...
Then five other warriors, desert nomads of Thiamim, got out in between the sphynx and his prey. They had been watching, and respected the bravery Jathiki showed. The sphynx was their totem, the symbol of their tribe, and the sphynx shied away from it. It was one of the silent male sphynxes, not the more intelligent female sphynxes.
Jathiki briefly explained what was going on. The leader of the tribe, Fonkikrer, could barely understand Jathiki, for the dialects spoken by the tribes of Thiamim were of the pre-Cathurian language, uninfluenced by the Titans' centuries-old hold on them. Yet they had heard of the struggle in the Southeast of the Cathurian Empire against the giants, and certainly the human tribes of Thiamim had no love of giants. Fonkikrer promised to raised Klaspet as he would his own child, and make Jathiki one of their own.
Meanwhile, back in Honrar, the giants worked to reassert their control. An immensely fat giant called Ganorus was chosen as Governor, a distant relative of the Emperor who had to be removed from their capital Setitays because of being accused of child molestation. He brought Klaspet's mother to a horrible end in front of the leering giants, but he found that he could not totally turn back the clock. He appointed a new ruler for the humans, working under himself, called Vynthrius. Vynthrius cooperated whole-heartedly with Ganorus, and earned the hatred of most humans. Nevertheless, between Vynthrius and Ganorus, they were under a total dictatorship. None of the Wingriders would work with the new regime, and the few who survived the traitors rode off to wage a guerilla war from mountains north of Honrar but not all the way to the Stormy Mountains which marked the borders of Rypym.
Those who were forced to betray the Honrarians had their whole families brought to Honrar, and they became the new nobility, replacing the old. Still, the fact that many of them were forced to betray the previous king, and had brought enslavement back on the humans, often haunted them.
Klaspet grew under the sponsorship of Fonkikrer and the tutelege of Jathiki. Klaspet learned to know the ways of the desert well, wearing the hides of basilisk skin, the only shield against basilisk or cockatrice stare...else a basilisk would kill itself if it blinked, or stared at its own foot. Jathiki taught him in the ways of Honrar, but it seemed a far-off dream to him. When he reached the age of twenty, Fonkikrer died. It was the custom of the Thiamimian tribes that the leadership went to the eldest son one generation, and the eldest daughter the next, so the leadership went to Fonkikrer's daughter, Hephursu. The children of Fonkikrer had also benefited from Jathiki's teachings, and they were far more sophisticated than most Thiamimian tribesmen. The Sphynx tribe, under Jathiki's able advice, became the most prominent in the area.
Jathiki, when Klaspet was 22, made a secret trip into Honrar, and found many of his old Wingrider friends had gone north to other mountains, and were waging a guerilla war. He found there were several factions fighting against Vynthirius, and the hatred for the giants was pretty absolute. He journeyed north, and after months of searching, found his old friends, and he explained he had the Cathurian heir in the desert of Thiamim. The friends were skeptical, but two consented to fly him back, and to see if the heir was truly there, two older men who remembered his father and mother well. When they landed in Thiamim (keeping watch for rocs, who would eat the hippogriffs as snacks), the Thiamimians watched with wonder as three men (Jathiki was riding on back) dropped from the sky on hippogriff back. It awoke old memories in Klaspet, though. He strode forward, but the older men laughed, saying, "This? This desert nomad you think is a Cathuria?"
Klaspet, in answer, pulled back his hood, and the two older men were silent. Though sunburned and even slimmer than his father, and ten times grimmer, he was undoubtedly his father's son. The two Wingriders got to one knee.
"Rise, my friends. Tell me how it goes in the land of my fathers."
For the first time, he heard of the horrible death of his mother, and heard as more than far-off rumor the injustices they lived under. "Are there many who resent this Vynthirius?"
He was assured there were.
"Do you have contacts with all these groups?"
"Most of them."
"Would they welcome the return of a Cathuria--or rather, a desert nomad who claims to be a Cathuria?"
"Over Vynthirius and gross Ganorus? Surely."
The two Wingriders were sent back to their fellows, to return in six months time; and Klaspet turned to the chieftainness, Hephursu, his foster-sister. "May I stay here while I plan how to free my people? I will have to leave the tribe, eventually..."
"Not if the tribe comes with you," she answered. "Come, there are many other tribes that owe us favors. And these flying steeds of your friends....such are dangerous in these roc-haunted lands, but might be turned to our advantage." Three years passed. Then, in Klaspet's twenty-fifth year, a plan was put into effect. A dozen Wingrider volunteers flew to Thiamim, and under Jathiki's direction, flew close to the western half of Thiamim, where the rocs cluster most, and flew close to where they were brooding. Several dozen rocs rose, immense birds sixty or seventy feet long, with wingspans of several hundred feet, and flew for them...but the hippogriffs had been trained well, and eluded the claws and started to fly to the east. Some of the rocs turned back. The hippogriffs had been smeared with sphynxblood, though, a most delectable odor to the rocs. They flew for a while, past much of Thiamim, and some more of the rocs halted as the desert ended, and they all warily went to sleep. But the hippogriff riders flew close to the rocs and they woke up, spurred by the smell, and started chasing them again. Four hippogriffs were lost...three to the claws of the rocs, and their riders with them, and one dropped of exhaustion, killing both. Reir saw the immense birds, and hid. Some of the birds, seeing the giants...prey large enough to be worth a mouthful...and made snacks of some of the warriors. (Giants are between twelve to eighteen feet tall.)
Farther and farther they flew, taunting the rocs enough, till they came to the great giant stronghold of Rietolki, where the gross Ganorus held court. Two great rocs settled down on the stronghold, and started to wolf down the giants. Ganorus cowered in fear, and would not come out. But the blood ran slippery down the steps and seeped through, and his soldiers could make no impression on them. He had hunting griffons, which giants keep as hunting pets. He sent them out to try to kill the rocs, but the rocs easily devoured the griffins. However, while they were occupied, Ganorus and his court tried to escape.
Only to find their way blocked by stranger humans in outlandish garb, the garb of Thiamimian nomads. One stood forward. "My mother died under your tortures, once. My father died under your manipulation. My whole land shrieks under the weight of the blood you spilled."
"Out of my way!" cried Ganorus, looking up at the rocs fighting the griffins overhead. The griffins wouldn't hold them off much longer...the immense, obscenely fat giant loomed over the young man, who held a cage covered in basilisk skin.
The young man, Klaspet, took the cover off, and the other humans covered their face with their long sleeves, and a basilisk stared out, death-eyed, at Ganorus and his court. Each gave just one scream...and then died.
Then the victorious rocs swooped down, and one took the large body of Ganorus and popped it into its mouth, a greasy mouthful, and then the others of his court also were added to the meal. The humans crept away slowly, wise to the ways of rocs. The hippogriffs hid under the trees, and prepared for the last ride. One of the riders, exhausted, got off, and Jathiki hopped on instead. "Once, as a tot, I gave you a ride out of your land, to save your life. It is only fitting that you return the same way."
Some of Klaspet's tribesmen said, "No! What if the rocs get him...?"
"The Wingriders bear that risk routinely. And this way we can get to C'Stepho quickly."
Thus, on hippogriff back, Klaspet returned to over the skies of Honrar's greatest city. Some Wingriders had already diverted rocks there, and the giants were fleeing or food. But Vynthrius had had time to assemble many people loyal only to himself, and was a wise warrior himself. As the hippogriff dropped from the sky, he had catapults ready, and a massive rock struck...not Klaspet, but Jathiki, killing him instantly.
Klaspet managed to land the injured hippogriff, and he joined those fighting Vynthrius. He shouted for Vynthrius to come out and face him.
Vynthrius appeared on the balcony of the Palace of Command, and with him, much older, was the man who had stabbed Klaspet's father. "Why should I heed the claims of a desert barbarian? Here is the killer of your father, if you are indeed who you claim to be. He has become my greatest general. Your huge birds are showy, but they are now gorged with giant-meat, and will soon limp home. Then the Emperor in Setitays will send new troops, and this foolish little coup will be..."
He didn't say another word, as the man next to him seized him and with a swift practiced motion, slit Vynthrius' throat. "...Finished," the general said. He looked up at Klaspet. "I did not wish to kill your father...my own family was threatened with death if I didn't. This trash, however," he gestured at Vynthrius' body, "I kill gladly. I await your judgement. I am old, and if I am to be executed, well, I have not many years left."
"No; you have done well, and what you did against me, I might have also, if my family was threatened." Klaspet said. He then looked at the mangled body of Jathiki. "Teacher, and friend, and the architect of my success. I wish you could have seen this."
His foster-sister Hephursu he made queen of Thiamim, to settle disputes between tribes, although allowing each tribe leave to settle its own affairs. She in turn, pledged friendship and alliance with Honrar, and there was an implied superiority of the Honrarian kingship, though ill-defined. There was great rejoicing, and Rocas became one of the greatest of the Cathurian holidays, the anniversary of Klaspet's return to C'Stepho. What rocs remained eventually returned to their land, but the rumour of such kept the Emperor of the Titans from ordering an immediate reprisal.
Many clamored for the blood of those who had betrayed the previous regime, but Klaspet would have none of it. "My own father's killer I let live. Should I kill the others? If I take their honors away from them, should I give it to the nobility that were killed? When will the blood end?"
He let them live, and also let the relatives of Vynthrius live in their positions, if they swore loyalty to him. That was a mistake, for many were resentful of the desert stranger who now suddenly commanded an empire.
For his part, he missed the freedom of the desert. He helped fortify Honrar, and married the daughter of a slain official of the earlier regime, helping to solidify his hold on the throne. But he was never happy at the seaside city of C'Stepho, and loved to visit Thiamim and Reir more than he did the lush fields of Honrar. If his father was always laughing, he looked always sad.
A map of Thiamim and other countries to the immediate west of Honrar.
Return to TU
Return to AL'S COSMIC COMIC HOME PAGE
Copyright © 1997 Al Schroeder