The Static-Lands Saga
A Meeting at the Edge of the Desert
There was a man among the Ilkhan who had inexplicably become the leader of a movement. Perhaps it was his eloquent speech or his passion, but he had not set out to be a figure of note. Vinchente Lapaz was simply a man who loved peace and wished more people loved peace.
There was a time when the leaders of Vale thought him a dangerous subject, although he generally kept to the Ilkhan territory in the Land-of-Always-Night. Vinchente was made an example of by having both his antlers cut off. Unlike the antlers of a deer, an Ilkhan’s antlers were never shed and never grew back. The stumps of severed antlers remained perpetually raw and open to infection. Blood would ooze from the wounds as the scabs flaked off. Aside from the constant irritation and the greater health risks the severing of antlers presented one, it was considered a grave disgrace for an Ilkhan to lose an antler. When he was freed after having this disgrace done to him twice-over, Vinchente was confronted by a crowd of his followers, who all stood together with short swords in hand and, despite his loud and weeping protests, bent low before him and cut off each other’s antlers as a show of solidarity.
That, however, is a story for another time. This tale is about a meeting Vinchente Lapaz had in the desert with a leader among the Vule and the conversation that they had. Vinchente was younger then and had both of his antlers. He dressed in robes of red to symbolize the blood shed by his people.
The man journeyed from his home in the Dark through the Gloaming Lands and into the Day. He bypassed the major population centers, keeping to the quiet forests. The entrance to the desert was abrupt. The trees did not thin out until the forest was met by tall cliffs, great formations in gold-red stone with a narrow gap that formed a gate into a world of clay-flats and sand. Vinchente thought he would go blind when he first beheld it. The shadows cast by the cliffs were cool, but the wind off the desert plain felt like the heat cast by a smelter’s fire. The distant desert mountains were pale blue and melded into the sky.
It was always high noon in this place. Vinchente had a purpose here. He’d received a message from the chief of the Vule’s Great Southern Tribe. The chief wished to have words with him about a “shared problem.” Lapaz almost had a heart-attack when a large creature vaulted down in front of him, landing upon a rock.
“The Ilkhan I summoned,” the creature stated in a gray voice.
“Uh, yes…” Vinchente replied cautiously.
“You have become a leader among your people,” the Vule said, “More effective than the kings, chiefs and generals. The young among your kind are listening to you.”
The two got a good look at each other. Vinchente was a man with graying blond hair and slim antlers upon his head – those of a four-point whitetail buck, in hunter’s terms. The light hair at the edges of his broad ears was gray. The Vule was a typical specimen of his kind, a wiry man with a beak instead of a nose, sharp eyes, black hair mixed with black and gray feathers, a bird’s tail protruding from beneath his light clothing and feathery wings for arms, the edges of which had hands. He was nearly a perfect melding between a human being and a common vulture. Strangely, he was not ugly. He had a long, trailing mustache from each side of his beak. His gray eyes reminded Vinchente of swords.
Noticing what part of his body Vinchente was looking at, the vulture-man replied; “Your eyes… brown… like the droppings left by a horse.”
Vinchente’s jaw dropped a little.
“This is not an insult upon you. I find the color pleasant…rich. I am Gris, High Chieftain of the Southlands Tribe of the Proud Scavengers.”
“Vinchente Lapaz,” Vinchente answered, “a scholar-turned-speaker. I never set out to be a leader, but many have chosen to follow my words.”
“It is because you have a message of pride for your people,” Gris replied, “and they respond to it in hard times. Your kind are wise and beautiful, unlike they that threaten us both.”
“To tell you the truth, sir,” Vinchente ventured, “I am a bit nervous. I have heard many things about your people.”
“What have you heard?” Gris asked, shifting his wing-feathers.
“That your kind are a fierce people and do not suffer fools to venture into your desert lightly.”
“You are alive because you are not a fool.”
“I have also heard that your people eat your kills – and not just animals, but of the Races, even your own.”
“Not members of our own tribe, no,” Gris answered, “Long ago, it was not that way. When we Vule encountered the Valiens and the Ilkhan, the rituals of both regarding the dead became a source of fascination for us. My tribe buries its own. When we are at war with the Northlands Tribe, however, we drag their dead off the field of battle, for they make fine meat.”
“I’d invite you to have a meal with me. I have a soldier of Vale ripening in a dry wash. I know, however, that you are incapable of eating as my kind do. Your system would react violently to the rot that my people define as flavor.
Gris then laughed, noting Vinchente’s look. “Don’t be so appalled – he was just a Valien, your enemy and mine. He knew what he risked in coming out here.”
“I am sure he had a family,” Vinchente answered. “And I am not so sure about enemies. I prefer to think of certain people as…misguided.”
“You are a generous man,” Gris said, a smile coming to his lips – which were of a human nature below his beak of a nose. “That generosity will bring you only pain. I called you here because my people would like to join with yours – the Southern Tribe, mind you, not our enemies in the north of the desert. The people of Vale, having dealt with their own and unified their society have become a serious threat. Your people have been conquered by them and have suffered tremendously. Don’t let their attempts at ‘tolerance’ deceive you. They want nothing more than the end of everyone unlike them.”
Vinchente scratched his chin. “The man that wants to live in a world where everyone agrees with him on everything is a man that wants to live in an empty world, alone.”
“They have ‘cleansed’ their own people,” Gris re-iterated, “and their powers remain discontent. Your people are falling. In your own lands, they are squeezed tight and taken by oppressive laws. The cities of the Vale are filled with suicide, mostly among the young of your race. Your blood cries to be avenged with their blood.”
“There are open hearts among them,” Vinchente Lapaz contended. “It is they that I wish to reach with my words. Things will change.”
“Obstinate faith!” Gris screeched, “You have the potential to unite your people, more than any other. You can conquer they that conquered you. You must, in fact, if you wish to survive – you must!”
Vinchente paced in the sand and watched his companion hop about on rocks. He looked back toward the stone desert gate. “Why is this important to you?” he asked, “For the most part, Vale has left the desert alone.”
Gris leaned down low so that he was beak-to-nose with Vinchente, “Do you wish to know the real reason that the Valiens leave the desert be?”
“Is it not the lack of resources? The Vule may live in a place such as this, but the people of Vale, much like the Ilkhan, need water and lands that grow green things.”
“Vale would even wish for my paltry lands,” Gris answered. “Think about how the Valiens deride your people. They insult the various gods and spirits that your people believe in, all of your ways and cultures. They look down upon you for your very appearance. They dare not insult Pah-sha.”
“Our take on ‘God,’ I suppose,” the Vule leader explained, “The Life Force… the Great Soul that we believe centers itself in our own desert. The Valiens know their place before it. They dare not speak of it. They dare not speak ill of the rest of our ways, either. We know that our food-ways alone are abhorrent to them, but they dare not bother us to enforce theirs – even when we take some of their own that wander here! There is a reason why that has nothing to do with the barren nature of our lands.”
Vinchente sighed and continued to listen.
“They leave us alone because of our violence,” Gris said. “The Valiens fear us. They know what the Southern and Northern tribes do to each other. We murder our own without mercy over small the smallest of contentions. The prowess of the Vule in war is legendary and we are known for our touchy tempers. I have thought of killing and eating you five times during this very conversation and have had to restrain myself. The Valiens know that to give insult to us is perhaps the one thing that will unite the South and North and bring our whole wrath upon them. I have, on occasion, flown over Vale and have heard the speech of its citizens. The Vule are mentioned in hushed, awed whispers when we are mentioned at all. When I have revealed myself, my spear in hand gleaming, I am bowed to and given utmost respect. They’d never do that for an Ilkhan.”
“That is true,” Vinchente admitted, “but respect given in fear is not true respect.”
“That may be so, but it is better than what your people have suffered. I fear that Vale is getting bolder. I fear that the fools may invade the desert. More of them venture here than in years past. Also, I respect your people genuinely. I would like to see you survive. That is why I called you here to share my wisdom.”
“You are saying that the only way for the Ilkhan to survive is to become vicious.”
“Precisely. Put Vale in its place by making it fear you.”
Vinchente began to walk away. “Thank you for the talk, sir,” he said, “But I think I shall continue things my way. I fight with words, for hearts and minds.”
“Then you shall continue to suffer.”
“Peace is no coward’s road.”
Vinchente Lapaz made his way back through the gate. Before he exited, Gris flew overhead and dropped a single large black feather. “Keep that,” the Vule leader said. “When you look at it, think about my words.”