Hashta bowed to the Queen and the Amryn, then threw back his head and looked around. His eye fell scathingly on Hural, but he ignored him for the moment. “I am Hashta dar Harrak dar Ghaer,” he said, addressing the chieftains in their circle. “Most of you know me from the time I have spent walking the Land at the Amryn’s side.”
The Amryn nodded and, ignoring the Queen’s warning frown, rose and opened a hand toward Hashta. “Indeed. Hashta, I am pleased that you have chosen to join us at council. Chieftains all, I present to you Hashta dar Harrak, who will be Amryn after me.”
Many chieftains extended their hands and spoke words of welcome, and Hashta nodded acknowledgement. Tam noted, in particular, the young chieftain of Blade Ridges, who wore his hair in the same multitude of small braids as Hashta. So that was the clan he hadn’t been able to place, earlier.
“Amryn, and chieftains all,” Hashta said, with another bow, “I have not come today to sit in council. I have come to bring the words and the judgment of the Land. There is one here today who is not worthy to stand among those with honor.”
“If you are speaking of the recent events involving the Bruhman company,” the Queen said, still seated, with a little furrow between her eyes, “that is a matter that will be discussed today. In council. At the appropriate time.”
“Do have a seat, lad.” The Amryn gestured to the place at his right hand.
“How can I sit quietly when foreigners walk among us?” Hashta opened his arms, an expansive gesture. “How can I wait for an appropriate time when K’shay tanna permit structures to be built, and their children to be poisoned, and the Land itself to be sold to foreign companies?”
Chieftains murmured to each other, and some looked darkly at Hural.
The Queen folded her arms. “Foreigners do not precisely walk among us any longer, do they, young man? Are you going to tell the chieftains the full extent of your ill-advised deeds?”
Hashta raised his chin. “I regret nothing that I have done. I called upon the Land to bury the poison and desecration of the foreigners, and the Land answered me. The mountains threw themselves upon the heads of those without honor, as they have done in many tales.”
The Blade Ridges chieftain looked impressed, and several other chieftains nodded.
The Amryn sighed. “It’s always easier to throw the Land down in ruin than to preserve it. The tales never tell of all the earthquakes and floods that Amryns have prevented, only the ones we’ve caused. Come, lad. I’ll ask you not to go throwing the Land about again, without me there to have an eye to the unforeseen consequences.”
“I considered the consequences!” Hashta said. His drums began to beat faster. “I tested all the connections of each part of the Land to every other part, as you taught me, and I determined that the rockslide would not touch the clan, and that the after-tremors would reach only to places deep below the Land, where no things live.”
“There are other consequences you did not consider,” the Queen said. “And now it falls to your elders to repair the damage you have done.”
Hashta turned to the chieftains. “I may be young, but the Land is with me. Have not young warriors and Amryns often led the people in dark times? Did not the Amryn Xahrenth rise to her glory before her twentieth year?” He bent to touch the grassy earth at his feet. “I respect the old ways, and the traditions of our people. The things that are coming to us from outside, these machines and technologies, these things are foreign to us. Let us cast them off, and live as true children of the Land.”
Murmurs continued to rise. The Amryn looked puzzled, hurt. “What are you saying, Hashta? Against whom are you speaking?”
Hashta’s drums slowed, and it seemed he was considering. “Not against you, Amryn, nor against her Majesty. If my words sounded so, I beg pardon.” He bowed again. “But I do speak against anyone who would give shelter and aid to foreigners, or who would dare to sell the Land. If I give offense,” he stood upright again, and held his chin stiffly, “I will go.”
The Amryn’s voice rose. “If you walk out on this council now, Hashta, you leave as a child and not as a man. A man accepts responsibility for his actions and stays to the end to see what his deeds have wrought.”
Hashta met Tam’s eyes for a moment, and Tam felt him waver. Then he stiffened again, and turned, his red cloak fluttering. “My apologies to the Queen and the Amryn,” he said, “but I cannot sit in council while those without honor are permitted to remain.”
He strode toward the tent flap. The Queen pressed her lips together.
“Can we just let him leave?” Tam asked her. He heard the wordless voices stirring all around them, chieftains moved to anger or to doubt by Hashta’s words, impressed by his bearing and his Amryn’s cloak, fired by the picture he painted of the old days and the old ways. “People might go with him.”
“We can hardly order the young Amryn detained,” the Queen said. She sounded strained, within and without. “Knowing some of our chieftains, that would only increase his popularity.”
There had to be something Tam could do. After all, Hashta was his Amryn. He closed his eyes.
He got no answer. Frustrated, he focused on the center from which the drums emanated, the bright heart of it all, and grabbed, and held. He didn’t know quite what he was grabbing with—it wasn’t his hands—but he felt Hashta’s surprise, felt him struggle, a lithe, burning thing trying to pull free.
Tam hung on. “You said you’re my Amryn, right? Then I’m your King. Next time you want to do something crazy, tell me first.”
Hashta twisted, turned to him. Tam thought he saw, or felt, claws among the crackling fire. “I must do what I know is right. No one can stop me.”
Stubbornly, Tam hung on, though he felt himself burning somewhere in his mind. “I’m not saying I’ll stop you, or that I’ll make you agree with me. But don’t—” he shoved Hashta down, like wrestling a wild dog to calm, and held him there, “—don’t you dare not tell me. Don’t you dare leave me in the dark again. Don’t you dare leave me to pick up all the pieces!”
Hashta stopped struggling. His fire burned low, and his flutes stopped screaming. “I—” he said, and Tam heard the words with both his ears and his mind, “I didn’t know you were that strong.”
Tam, breathing hard, opened his eyes. Hashta had turned back from the tent flap and was directly before him now, dropped to one knee, looking up at him. The Queen and the Amryn were staring at the two of them. Tam could tell, without turning, that all the chieftains and their attendant warriors were staring too.
“Well?” Tam asked.
“You have my word,” Hashta said. “When I act, I will take you in my counsel, Tam Gardner. This I swear.” He rose and, eyes darting around the council tent more like a trapped creature, now, than one stalking its prey, he seemed to shrink. He turned and dashed out.
Tam glanced over at the Queen. “He ran off after all, Ma’am. I’m sorry.”
She cocked her head as if listening. “I think the danger’s past, for now. He’s going to sulk for a bit, I imagine, rather than go on causing trouble and stirring folk up.” She sighed. “I’m sorry, Tam, I do think your Amryn is going to be quite a handful.”
Tam shrugged. “He’s what was handed to me. And I reckon he feels the same, so we’re matched.”
The Queen smiled. “You are, at that. But at least you’re willing to sit in council.” She patted the spot beside her, and Tam folded himself down to sit beside her. Most of the chieftains were still staring at him. He smiled awkwardly, and tried not to be bothered by the attention. It, like Hashta, was something he was going to have to get used to.