The Gali Khan of the White Horde sat before Nisrioch, guzzling the huge chalice of liquor that had been set before him. The drink dripped down his long salt-and-pepper beard, while the sound of his lapping at the drink filled the tent. When he finished it, Gali Khan tossed it away, and regarded the Dark Lord of the Screaming Waste with his vivid blue eyes.
“You brew good mead, my chief,” stated the Kizak in an old, croaking voice, made brittle with age
Nisrioch sipped his tea and nodded. “I do try, sir.” He glanced at Agri Khan, Balu Khan and Ostrorog, all of whom looked equally awkward. “Now then, oh, Gali Khan, if we could speak of the plans.”
“Plans?” Gali Khan scowled, and then spat into the corner. “Listen to me, child of nightmares, for I am Konstancy bin Lev, and my years are four-score and three, and I have been Gali Khan for three-score and seven of them. Four times have I crossed the Great Black River, the first time coming with my father, the second returning with him, the third time coming with your father, the fourth returning with him. I have raised the Standard of the White Wolf for the Cthoniques thirty-eight times, and against them five times--I have fought with my Horde in all four directions, and in all the Lands of Night. I know war from its top and to its tail, and I know this--if you have trained your men, and raised your forces, and so prepared things that they may march forth without losing over half of them to hunger, to cold and to desertion, then you have done well, and anything else you may plan is a distraction. Battles are best fought when they are fought. Otherwise, they go crosswise.”
“Ahh,” said Nisrioch. “Yes, yes that does seem… wise.”
The old man raised himself from his seat, his wiry form moving with a speed that belied his age, and then managed a stiff bow. “I thank you now, my chief, for your hospitality.” He clapped his hands together. “Ostrorog, my son! Help me back to my tent.”
Ostrorog gave the others an apologetic look as he rose to his feet. “Of course, oh, Gali Khan.” He rushed to his father’s side, and escorted him from the tent.
There was silence for a moment, after he left, and then Balu Khan glanced at the others. “You know, I thought Konstancy was going to beg out of this one due to advanced age. Let Ostrorog lead the Horde into battle.”
Agri Khan sighed. “Yes, well, that would be sensible, Enryk, wouldn’t it? And that is something Konstancy bin Lev is most assuredly not.” He sipped his tea. “Do you think he’s going to try and storm the Crossing?”
“I hope not,” answered Nisrioch with a sigh.
Balu Khan blinked. “He’s not… no one would…”
“Konstancy tried to raise the Hordes against the Cthoniques,” said Nisrioch. “After watching his father fail at that. Of course, I forgive him, because the Cthoniques were Great uncle Nerghal, and father. Oh, and great-great-grandfather Tidal, who wasn’t that awful, but could be quite unpleasant at times.” Nisrioch began to tap on the table before him. “Further, much of that feud was brought on by his father, a wild bull of a man, if I read my histories right--and I always read them right--who raised his hand against his foes in all direct…”
“Nissy, is this your way of saying ‘Konstancy would’?” asked Agri Khan.
Nisrioch nodded. “More or less, yes, yes it is.” He peered at his friend. “A bit full of digressions, I admit, but I thought they added… charm…”
Jerzy massaged his temples. “So--what do we do at the Crossing if he gets… jumpy?”
“Ply with liquor, I imagine,” answered Nisrioch, adding a lump of sugar to his tea.