In the region to the northwest of the empire of Galeym, there was a region of rugged hills and low mountains, transitioning into the high mountains, the White Mountains, that the Empire could not pass into, and these hills were known as the Pailti, or, regionally, as the Pailtz, which means “hills” in the language of Galeym, and in these hills were many villages that were not part of the Empire. It was a beautiful day in Spring, with the Sun peaking over the hills as birds twittered in the trees, and the villagers in Sohmk were at their work in the fields, which, being in the hills, were swiddens scattered here and there in gaps in the woods; generally, the people were of such a disposition that their work, no matter how hard, did not weigh them down, and they could be heard singing while they planted:
The fair Sun shines o’er all our fields
Which will soon a great harvest yield
The Earth’s reward for all our toil
On the Pailtz’s blesséd soil!
A young woman who was leading a mule pulling a wagon added:
Yo-de-li yo-de-lo yo-de-ley-li-loo!
A man in the field snapped: “For the umpteenth time, Reentie, that is not neccessary! This is a working song, it’s supposed to be steady!”
“Oh, come on, I know that, I’m just messing with you.” She walked off, yodelling away without end with the mule and the wagon alongside her.
The soft clopping of hooves could be heard in the distance, over a hill, and it grew steadily louder as it went steadily on, until a band of wagons emerged over the hill, drawn by black horses and ridden by men in black clothes and black hats and masks.
“Run! Grab a weapon! Someone’s coming who we don’t want here!” shouted a worker as he followed his own advice, but not everyone heard or saw him, and soon the wagons pulled up to a group of people in the fields and some of the black-masked men jumped off.
“Give us everything you own or we’ll kill you!” shouted the one in front. As none of the workers were armed and the men in the wagons aimed bows at them while the ones out brandished knives, they quickly emptied their pockets, took off their bags and jewelry, and started handing everything to the bandits.
“Now take us to your houses!”
Fortunately, not everyone missed what was going on and a mob had formed, armed with bows, knives, pitchforks, and torches, and started to go after the bandits. They shot at the bandits, who shot back as they rode off, but all the shots were stray shots that did not even come close to their targets.
“That necklace was from my boyfriend!” shouted a young woman.
“They took the keys to our house!” said a middle-aged man.
“If they come back here we’ll get them!” said a man wielding a pitchfork over in the mob.
“Yeah!” answered an old woman with a torch and knife toward the back of it.
They were on the lookout the rest of the day at night, but nothing else unusual happened.
Night fell, and as the Sun went down below the Earth in the West, peaking over the tip of a mountain, the Moon rose from deep within a dale in the East, as if a new, dark day were beginning rather than an old day ending. The bandits rode swiftly in their wagons so no one would catch them, although they were going nowhere. A short, stout but scraggly man on the back of the front wagon turned from looking out sideways at the passing scenery to talk to the slender man sitting at the right in front:
“Hey Keilek, you ever notice that there are very few places we can actually rob?”
“Yes, Borath?” he grunted back.
“And did you also notice, whenever we take everything someone has, we can usually only rob them once?”
“Well, yes…” the sharpness and coldness of his words could hardly hide that he had not.
“Then how about we just take some of what the few people we can rob have, in little bits, every so often? Then they can use what they have left to make more things for us, and we can rob them again and again indefinitely.”
“I say that we do that. Thank you for helping me to think of that, Borath.”
It was midsummer and in Kohmk everyone was gathering for the festival as the Sun rose over a mountain and cocks crowed as if to announce her arrival in all her majesty on her strongest day of the year. As she rose, horsehooves and wagon wheels could be heard in the distance, and, since no one had forgotten the last time, everyone bolted to their houses and bolted the doors.
“Not today!” whined a young boy to his father, loudly.
“Just hide here until they leave,” replied the father softly and firmly, “and be quiet so they don’t know you’re here.” All the children were then quiet in fear.
The band of wagons was indeed the same pack of bandits as before, and they had already seen the villagers gathered before they had arrived. They could be heard shouting from within the houses:
“Come out of there right now or we’ll burn your houses down with you inside of them!”
No one believed that they would burn down their house, thinking that the bandits didn’t see them and couldn’t know they were there, but some of them had already went to the back room of one of the houses, in which a family was huddled, and started striking flint below one of the windows.
“Now you come out right now and give us stuff or you’ll burn inside your house!”
“If we give you everything we have we’ll die anyways, so why should we come out?” answered a young man.
“We don’t want everything you have, merely one-eighth of it. And you think we won’t burn down each one of your houses? If you don’t come out we will!”
The family grabbed a bunch of their things from the back room and then ran out the front door, and then the bandits put the fire out and sent them back in to get more of their things and bring them out. There were two men outside every door, so if anyone left their home armed they could be shot immediately, and another mob could not form. Thus everyone in Kohmk gave the bandits one-eighth of their belongings, and then the bandits left. After that they still tried to celebrate the festival, but could scarcely forget what had happened.
The next day, the people of the village held a meeting.
“It’s time for us to leave. Seeing as we have been raided twice now, I strongly suspect that the gagas have built a new road and are making their way into the Pealtz, and we cannot relocate somewhere in the Pealtz again like we have before, but only into the White Mountains,” said a tall and dark man. (“Gaga” was a belittling term for someone from Galeym in the greater Pealtz.)
“We can’t go into the White Mountains. The gagas may not consider us civilized, but we don’t run around with winged helmets and raid anyone who looks at us funny. We’ve lived in the Pailtz for generations, so we shall simply find somewhere else in the Pailtz. The White Mountains belong to the Seirook, I think we would have to become like them to live there.”
“If that's so, then so be it. We can’t put up with this any longer.”
Some people, who were facing towards the woods, saw a man dressed from head to toe in green and sporting a long beard emerge dragging the carcass of a deer.
“Grahhy, what were you doing out there? Can’t you see we’re holding a meeting?” snapped a woman who was one of the first to see him.
“I was hunting.”
“I think we can all see that. What were you doing hunting while we’re having a meeting?”
“We’re going to need food for the journey.”
“We have crops and livestock. We don’t also need venison. If we ran out on the journey, you could have hunted then.”
A black figure was seen in the woods, then it vanished behind a tree.
The first man spoke:
“It appears that someone has learned of our intention and now we shall hav to leave much sooner than we had planned. Everyone, gather all the things you can and leave at once.”
Everyone dashed off to their houses and gathered all the things they could, and loaded up animals and wagons and left within a couple hours of starting. They all headed into the back woods and headed for the White Mountains. It was nearly the end of the day when they heard the marching of boots in the distance coming from th South.
“Do you hear that?”
The legion of Galeym is marching through here, if we are found we’ll be taken as slaves. Everyone, follow me, there is a cave I always use that we can hide in,” said Grahhy, quietly.
Grahhy trod nimbly an the rest of the party had difficulty following him, but they followed him until they found the cave, and they all hid within it. They could even hear the thudding of boots above them as they hid, which made everyone silent as they waited for it to pass.
They saw a shadow at the mouth of the cave, and heard chuckling.
“Come out, come out, you pathetic fools. You think you can just up and out like that? If you don’t come with us we’ll tell the legion where you are and make you all slaves,” spoke one of the shadows. But all people in the cave remained silent, and were as shadows themselves. Grahhi held his bow and aimed an arrow at the man.
“You think we can’t see that? Don’t any of you shoot.” Grahhy stopped aiming his bow.
“Now you will follow us back to where you live, and you will stay there, or we will tell the Empire about you and they will capture you.”
They were thus lead back to the village that they had tried to leave.
The sky was black, without a star in sight, but the light of the Moon could dimly be seen through the trees. Borath turned to Keilek to speak:
“Don’t you think it’d be easier to do our business if we weren’t always on the run?”
“Well, the village of Kohmk is in the middle of every place we raid, relatively speaking. And Kohmk is set up in a sort of arch shape with a forest in the middle. We’ve been getting quite rich now, so if we go down to Galeym, we can buy stone and slaves and get ourselves a building in the woods.”
“I say we do that! Let us go now.”
They headed to the city in Galeym, carefully avoiding the passing armies, and went to the market as the Sun dawned. They were surrounded by noise from people and animals even as the Sun rose, and the took off their masks and headed out to buy stone, wood, and slaves, which they loaded onto their wagons before heading off to Kohmk. They took a winding route to Kohmk and went around the back into those woods, and then ordered the slaves to clear a small patch of forest and start building. The building took a couple of weeks, and the final building resembled a very small fortress, with only a tower peeking up over the trees. In the meanwhile, the villagers had decided not to go anywhere as most of the Pealtz and the White Mountains were occupied by various armies and they were only safe because they were hidden in the forest, which they could not clear out a large enough plot of for all of them to live in without burning fires and otherwise drawing attention to themselves.
As the dawn broke and people came out from their houses, a man saw the parapeted tower peeking up from above the trees.
“Look at that! What is that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should check it out.”
Soon everyone who was outside followed him into the woods and saw the small fortress-like building standing there, with parapets all around its roof and men with bows patrolling it as a tall man and a shorter and stouter one exited the front door laughing.
“You’ve built a fortress in the middle of Kohmk! Who do you think you are, the king?” exclaimed Reentie.
“Hahaha, if you say so, then call me His Majesty, King Keilek of Kohmk! We thank you all very much for paying for this!”
“You can’t just do this! You think now that you’re settled and the armies are gone we won’t just up and out someday? You can’t stop all of us, not as the Seirook head down to keep the Galeym legions at bay!”
“Where have you heard about the Seirook heading down?”
“We’re not as isolated as we look.”
“Well, the Seirook are not here now, and you won’t be able to escape now either, so it’s time to pay to His Majesty King Keilek of Kohmk.”
The self-declared king sent men about from house to house to get the villagers to give them the regular 1/8th of all their possessions. As those two stood there, Borath whispered in his ear:
“I think the proper term would be His Majesty, Mayor Keilek of Kohmk.”
“But King has more of a ring to it, don’t you think?”
On the next night, in the backroom of a house, children and young adults were awoken as they heard noise coming from the hallway, and opened the door to see Reentie walking with a knife at her side, a box of flint and sticks in her hands, and a black silk cloak on her back.
“What are you doing?” exclaimed a boy, quietly and breathily.
“I’m going to set their little fortress on fire, and then everyone can run away into the White Mountains as it burns.”
“You’re crazy! You’ll get shot by the guard n the tower! I won’t let you go!” He reached out try to stop her but he was too small and weak and no one else tried to help him.
“You must really want to get shot then!” he added.
She chuckled and replied, “I’m not going to get shot!” then pulled the cloak over her and vanished.
“Woah… Where did you get that? You’re still crazy, but a little less crazy. I wish you well! We won’t tell anyone! We’re all cheering you on!”
“Thank you,” said her voice from the darkness as she headed out the door.
She dashed through the darkness toward that small fortress, which now had all the trees cleared from it as if to be seen more easily as a reminder of who now ruled them, her cloak hiding her from the guards with bows who lined the roof and the tower. She went up to the southeast corner, and struck flint and started a fire there, then up to the northeast, and lit a fire there, then to the northwest, and lit a fire there, then to the southwest, then lit a fire there, then she ran off to stand back and watch.
Inside the fortress shouting could be heard, which awoke everyone from their sleep.
“Sir, this building is burning!”
“Yes?” said Keilek, “we can just get out through the window with a ladder.” He saw flames underneath his window. “One of the other ones.”
“No, the building is burning all around.”
“That could only have been caused by arson! No building just starts burning on all sides from the outside.” He then went into rage. “Were all of you dozing off? There is no way an arsonist should have been able to do that!”
“None of us saw anyone!” he replied, “ask all the other guards, I dare you!”
“Well, anyways, the others should be coming back any time now, and they’ll see this and get us out of here.”
A few wagons came in from the distance, and the men on the wagons saw the fortress burning up and were horrified. They poured out three of the wine barrels they had taken from another village, ran to the well to fill them up with water, and then threw the water underneath the window of Keilek and Borath’s room so a ladder could be put there. The ladder that was used inside the building was then lowered through that window, and then everyone who was in the building came out that window or the one below it. They then went on to get the rest of the building wet to stop the fire from spreading to the roof, which was made of wood and would make the rest of the building collapse if it caught fire. Bandits were no very good firefighters so they took the people from the other village that they had captured and brought and made them do it while they threatened them with bows and arrows. They eventually put the fire out, and the building still stood, although it was scorched black, and then everyone went back to bed for the few hours of the night that were left.
As the cocks crowed, Grahhy heard a knocking on his door, which he got up to answer, but soon wished he had not, for it was none other than some of Keilek’s men.
“Give us your weapons,” the one in front said as two bows were pointed at him.
“I’m a hunter! My weapons are my livelihood.”
“You don’t really need to hunt. The others have livestock, and if they don’t give you their food, we’ll make them give you it, as long as you do what we say.”
“I really do get a lot of food for this village though. You probably don’t care about that, but could you at least allow me my dignity?”
“Dignity?” he spat at the ground. “Hah!”
“I’d rather you kill me than take my weapons.”
“We won’t kill you then, we’ll sell you as a slave in Kaltha.”
“I’d be better off as a slave for some noble family in Kaltha than for you.”
“Then we’ll take you and lock you up somewhere and torture you.”
Only then did the hunter give up his weapons.
“We rule this village now and the surrounding area. How about we declare ourselves a state and get on good terms trading with Galeym? We could draft people into an army. Think about it!” said Keilek.
“We should declare ourselves a state now,” said Borath, “go summon everyone out of their houses now, and make a speech declaring us a state before they try to up and out again, which they are oh so close to doing. The army of Seirook will probably pass right through here soon, and although Seirook has no quarrel with them, they’d certainly have a quarrel with us, and if they knew how weak we were, they’d take us right out.”
They all went out and sent men on horses to go from house to house to summon everyone out, and then Keilek stood in front of everyone to give his speech.
“Good people of Kohmk!”, spoke Keilek, “lately, we have decided, that your village shall be the new capital of the State of Kohmk! Therefore, we shall draft an army, and build new infrastructure for all to use. We will need to expand the police force, because of course there will not be enough people to stop someone from robbing you, or murdering you, or any other form of disorder, and there must be order–”
Blood spurted out from Keilek’s neck, right in front of everyone, as if someone had slit his neck open with a kitchen knife.
“Take that, you bastards!” a young woman’s voice was heard crying, but they saw no one. The men standing around Keilek tried to save him, but they could not, and the men with hows standing as his bodyguards were bewildered. No one in the village could really pretend to be horrified or dismayed, however hard they tried to not burst out in glee that the tyrant was dead.
Reentie threw a stone at another bird, since birds, being mostly visual creatures, were the easiest targets. She knew they would be after her now, and she could not stay in any house or even in any one place for long, even with an invisibility cloak, or they’d find her sooner or later; however, she knew the word would get out about what she had done, and likely it would travel all the way to the White Mountains, to the Seirook, who would probably ask for her to join them. To join the Seirook! Running around in winged helmets raiding people didn’t sound half bad compared to what she’d seen back home, although she suspected the thing about running around in winged helmets raiding people was not the entire story. In fact, she decided, it would be great to run off to the Seirook, as long as the people at home had their issues. She saw that the armies were on the move again and were heading straight to Kohmk, and she’d probably want to see what goes down there before she headed io the White Mountains.
Even without Keilek, the bandits organized under Borath, who appointed himself the new King of Kohmk, and tried to make roads between the villages they controlled, and build fortifications, and draft an army – although none of this was working out, especially as the people they tried to draft would try to revolt again and again, despite some people actually being drawn to the State of Kohmk from outside for various reasons. In the distance, the legion of Galeym could be seen approaching, so everyone ran into their houses as if that would help, having nothing else they could do. Soon the legion of Galeym marched right into Kohmk, but they were greeted instanty by Seirook who sprang out from behind trees; the villagers saw out their windows that some of them actually were wearing winged helmets, although not very many. Swords clashed and arrows were fired for a long time before the Seirook were defeated and retreated back into the woods; then the legion saw the fortress and attacked it, easily overpowering it and forcing the leaders of the self-declared State of Kohmk out.
“So you have built a state here?”
“No…” replied Borath.
“Don’t lie. We know this when we’ve seen it. How would you like to be the ruler of this little region in Galeym? This is Galeym’s land now.”
“Then how would you all,” he gestured towards them, “like a nice master or mistress?”
“OK, I’ll do it then.”
“We’ll leave some of our men with you to help get everyone assimilated into Galeym now then, lest chaos break out in the process,” he chuckled, “there must be order!”