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He wore tan robes. His skin and hair were dark, like burnt sugar. He had once been strong, and it showed; now his strength was gone. His shoulders sloped forward; his hands were swollen, the muscle tone gone from his exposed forearms. His name was Leto. Dash-makar Leto, leader of the Reat tribe.
It had been four months since his capture. He was not bound in a single place, but kept in a series of four rooms by an armed guard. He was fed and cared for; the intention was to break his spirit, not his body.
He told himself again how foolish he had been to hope for peace with the Tyela. They were a warring tribe, and despite their words, their promises to talk peace, war and conquest had been the only thoughts in their minds. If he had let his people implement an offensive strategy, as his generals had suggested'
His people had not taken the city only because of Leto's presence. His captors had guaranteed a torturous death for Leto should the people revolt.
Four days later, it was with a heavy heart that Leto had let the Tyela leader, Chat', take his bracelets. At first, he had resisted; they were sealed around his wrists for as long as he ruled ' they had been given him by the People's Delegation. But Chat' had cut Leto's flesh to free the first bracelet and promised to take the life of ten Reats for every cut he was forced to make; Leto let him take the others. He watched through the window as Chat' tossed them into a crowd with abandon, though he clearly knew their worth.
That had been three months ago. Since then, impurities from Chat's blade had taken Leto through fevers and illness and hallucinations.
The once-proud ruler knelt before the makeshift altar (the Tyela had taken the blessed one some time ago) and raised his hands to the Gods. A small stone, grey and worn smooth by water, rested at his knees. The stones surrounding it were earth-stones with broken and jagged edges. Leto used one of them to slice his palm and let the blood drip onto the smooth Offering Stone. 'Shiman, Lakito, I offer my blood to appease your lust, that you may save my people and their city.'
Ruik was thirty. He had seen many battles with the Tyela. When their delegation had come into the city, promising peace for all eternity, Riuk had known it was too much. But he had no position advising the dash-makar and had done all he could, moving his family to the countryside for safety. News of the dash-makar's capture had reached him three days after the occurrence, and he had taken his sons to the Great Temple to pray. Never before had a leader of the Reat fallen, and dash-makar Leto was among the greatest and most revered leaders the tribe had seen since its creation.
The pilgrimage to the Great Temple had taken two weeks, and Ruik and the four young boys had spent three days in fasting. Then, as was permissible, his wife and six girls had joined them.
When Ruik's family returned home, they found their possessions destroyed, all the neighbors who had stayed, dead.
Ruik's cousin Hesha was waiting, sent by his family for news, and took them further into the countryside, where the Tyela forces had already left.
The journey was long and the children were hungry much of the time.
After a feast of celebration at their arrival, Hesha took Ruik aside and produced from his belongings one of the dash-makar's bracelets. When he pressed the metal into Ruik's palm, Hesha's dark eyes were full of sadness. 'He has betrayed us, Ruik.'
Ruik knew it was true. The only way the dash-makar's honor could be salvaged in Ruik's eyes was if news followed that the Tyela had taken the bracelets following his death. Never had a leader sacrificed them in life.
Ruik swallowed hard and returned to Hesha's home. He knew what he had to do.
'The Reat are a proud people, so, so proud. Forgive them, Lakito. They know not of their sins, they know not'save them, Shiman. How could a mother idly watch her children die?! No, no, forgive me, Shiman, forgive me. Is my blood diseased such that it will not appease you? Oh, but save them, Lakito, save them, Shiman. They shall all perish!' Leto rocked over the altar, tears in his eyes.
Chat' hit him across the face with the back of his hand. 'You shall pray to those false gods no longer.'
'What more can you want?' Leto cried, forgetting for a moment that he must show no weakness.
Chat' signaled to his men, who came forward and began to carry away the stones of Leto's altar. Leto struggled to his feet, intending to fight them. The blood pounded in his head and he felt the weakness in his legs. Chat' sensed it and threw one arm across Leto's chest, knocking him to the ground. 'Pray to Kaufa. Ask forgiveness for your lifetime of distance!'
'You shall perish in hellfire!' Chat' cried, and Leto wondered why the man cared for him at all. Why should it not please Chat' that Leto suffer eternally?
'So be it.'
Chat' turned his back to Leto as the last stone of the altar was carried away.
Riuk tied up his belongings. His wife watched him stoically. 'You are leaving?'
'I am going to the capital.'
'You did not wish to tell me?'
'I am telling you.'
'Are we to stay with Hesha?'
'What business have you in the capital?'
'I wish to seek council with the dash-makar.'
His wife fell silent for a moment. 'May Shiman go with you.'
Leto stood as one of Chat's messengers, a young man with a kind face, approached him. 'A message, Leto. A crowd has gathered once again. They have rioted for six days now, and every day I have told them it is illegal.'
'Reat law gives them explicit rights to gathered however they wish.'
Mistaking Leto's sadness for senility, the messenger explained softly, 'The people are no longer governed by Reat law.'
'The heeshlataan wishes you to go and send them away in the morrow.'
'How shall I-?'
'I am to take you out to the balcony, where you may address them.'
'And what will happen, should I refuse?'
'He will dispatch his army.' The messenger shook his head. 'I will tell him you will be prepared by morning light?'
When he was alone again, Leto raised his hands. 'I cannot send them away forever. They are proud'Lakito, can all my blood save them?' He began to hallucinate, horrific scenes of blood and war; five hours later, he was weak and shaking, leaning against the wall, calm. He would go onto the balcony with the messenger, address the members of the crowd on the east side. On the ground, there, was the Offering Stone the Reat used when they slaughtered animals for food, to ensure their spirits were sent up to the Gods.
The stone of a genuine altar surely had a stronger link to the Gods, and perhaps this, combined with a larger offer, would have the power to save the Reat.
When Ruik entered the city, he found many of its occupants gathered around the palace. Ruik worked his way into the crowd and asked the man next to him, 'What are you demanding?'
'We seek council with Heeshlataan Chat'.'
Ruik cringed to hear the man use Chat's reigning title, but he held his temper. 'For what purpose?'
'We are to take back the city and elect a new emperor. We want to know if Chat' will fight us. We do have a great force.'
Yes,Ruik thought, but all the trained fighters have perished already by Chat's hand. He moved forward, closer to the Offering Stone, which the Reat refused to turn their backs toward lest the Gods strike them down. 'Do you all seek council with Chat'?' he asked a woman near the Stone.
She turned to him and he saw the age in her face. He doubted she had heard his words clearly. 'Do you know yesterday, they threw down the dash-makar's altar? The one he had commissioned, with silk and metal, the one the priests blessed at his Ceremony? They said he was going to burn it, renouncing the Gods, but they thought we could barter with its parts to provide for our families. They say he has embraced Kaufa. Oh, if this is so, may Lakito take him before he has any more years of black against his soul!'
Ruik put a hand on her shoulder. 'If Lakito wills it to be so.'
The messenger walked out with two aides, supporting Leto by the elbows. He walked to edge of the balcony, in the East, the direction of the Gods, and looked down on the Reat people. It was the first he had seen of them in months and tears burned his eyes.
As the people caught sight of him and realized, in his battered condition, who he was, he heard cheers and derision. He shook his arms forcefully and the aides released him.
He stepped on the stone edge of the balcony and the aides looked to the messenger in alarm. The boy shook his head, sadly, and they stayed back.
'We are going to take the city!' one man in the crowd cried up to him.
'Mishayto,' Leto addressed them, 'it seems Lakito and Shiman require an offering to save the city! I have prayed that what they are about to receive shall be sufficient, and I dreamt Lakito said it was so. '
An arrow flew from the crowd with enough force to drive deep into Leto's chest. In surprise, he stepped to the right before pitching forward off the balcony. He landed several inches from the Offering Stone and the stream of blood that began to flow from his chest, as he was not yet dead, ran along to the West.
From the crowd came a low sound. There was one mournful cry, louder than all the rest; the men around Ruik caught him as he sank to his knees, his hands white and shaking as he clutched his bow.
Leto lay on the ground, his eyes glazed. Blood ran from the corners of his mouth, and with a great effort, he turned his face to the East. 'Save them, Shiman.'
The city fell to the Tyela.