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1] Tarrant Struggled
2] Serpent Orb
3] The Founding of a Clan
4] Dragon Law
5] The Coming of the Wolf
6] Yukio's Time
7] Strangers Visit
8] Meeting of Clans
9] Blackbone's Trust
10] Lord Hideo's War
11] Whispers of War
12] A Hero Returns
Chapter 8: Meeting of Clans

Lord Hideo frowned as he sat on the rough matting that was the Wolf Clan keep’s only concession to comfort. Once each year the leaders of the three clans met together, along with their advisers and bodyguards, to discuss matters of mutual interest and attempt to keep the peace. Hideo had observed, though, that these meetings were increasingly devoted to airing grievances, making veiled threats, and generally creating as much friction as possible.

This year it was the Wolf Clan's turn to host, which meant a difficult ride up steep trails to that clan's keep, high on the Shaleback ridge. The insular Wolf Clan made little attempt to make their guests comfortable, and hospitality meant sleeping on the ground in the stone, wood, and stitched hide structure they called a keep, and sitting through the chanting and endless sagas they thought of as entertainment. Endless bestial howling from the woods – some primitive ceremony had kept him awake half that night, and Hideo was not in a pleasant mood.

To his right sat Lord Zymeth, head of the Lotus Clan, with his long black hair and robes of office. No one knew how old Lord Zymeth really was, but he had been Hideo's boyhood tutor and was now his chief adviser. Behind Zymeth sat his bodyguards, bizarre-looking Lotus clan warriors, elongated men with a curved blade in each hand, and bone-white warlocks. They had had to camp up on the ridge a hundred yards from the Wolf village something about them drove the dogs here crazy.

Across from them sat the Wolf Clan chief, Blackbone, an enormous gray-haired man dressed only in a light vest despite the chill of altitude. Behind him lounged half a dozen men in animal skins and shale armor, hulking ones carrying enormous sledgehammers or feral berserkers with claws strapped to their forearms.

The meeting had gone as predicted, issue by issue. He and Lord Zymeth had discussed complaints of something strange that had been seen to come down from the High Plateau by night and roam the forests of the Fertile Valley. Zymeth and Blackbone had squabbled as usual over mining rights in the disputed areas on their territories’ mutual border. Hideo had agreed ahead of time to take the Lotus Clan's side in that argument, and so he did. All agreed to maintain the lookouts on the Channel to the north, despite seeing nothing for many years, of either the Horde or any seagoing clan. Was the Horde even a reality, Hideo wondered, or just part of the legend of Tarrant the Elder, his semi-mythic great-grandfather?

Chapter 9: Blackbone's Trust