Chapter 1

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"Proud men hasten not. We shall have a big hunt, games, dances and a feast to honor you as befits an envoy of the great King of the North. Let us talk business after the feast, noble Alva Ahayrre."

Alva nodded and tried to hide his disappointment. He was at the Essanti camp as the ambassador of the king, Daronghi Dancennou. He wanted the nomads' help in fighting the Enqins, who recently were raiding Creede's southern borders. Two weeks of the journey to the steppes had been dull, and now Alva itched to start negotiations. Unfortunately, Kintaro, the Essanti chieftain, seemed to want the exact opposite. Alva did not like this at all. No doubt Kintaro suspected why the "envoy of the great King of the North" had come. Bet he was just stalling before he refused outright. Or maybe he was working out how to make the refusal polite. Comes out to the same thing in the end.

For the next two weeks, Chevalier Ahayrre barely left the saddle. The nomads clearly expected him to participate in everything. Alva took part in the Essanti's big hunt. They rushed all over the steppe on their huge mounts, and Alva's Verlown thoroughbred could barely keep up. They slaughtered bison and deer by the hundreds. They camped at nightfall, gorged on seared meat, sang and danced in the firelight, staged races and swordfights, wrestled, and fell asleep right on the grass without even bothering to set up the tent.

By the end of the second week, Alva could barely stay on his feet. He still jumped into every fight, however; he felt his northerner's pride demanded it. He was a decent swordsman and the uncouth nomads had cheered him on. He rode well too; it was not said for nothing in the capital that Chevalier Ahayrre had been born in the saddle. Still, Alva hardly liked the brutish pursuits. He thought himself a poet and a diplomat more than a warrior, so he heaved a sigh of relief when the Essanti finally returned to their camp. There, slaves and servants had already prepared for the feast.

Fanart by Anna Valerius: Kintaro and the Essanti warriors

Fanart by Anna Valerius: Kintaro and the Essanti warriors

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