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Volume 9, Chapter 10: Nenjen’s Tale

Around fifty years ago, we had more than double the pastoral nomads we have now.

I was part of one, born to a warmonger tribe. Warmonger has a nice ring to it, but in a bad sense, we were bandits. Normally we’d raise livestock, but we’d often steal women from other tribes or villages to make our brides. We also plundered and sold slaves on the side.

Ahh, don’t glare at me. I feel bad about it. At the time I didn’t question it. I thought it was a way of life.

Now, moving on.

I was still a youngster in my teens, but even the tribal chief had a high opinion of my skill with the bow. I even actively participated in the plundering. It was worse to be on the receiving side of it. We were arrogant from being constantly victorious.

This arrogance was prevalent throughout my entire tribe.

One day, the son of the tribal chief spoke up: “I want a girl from the Wind-reader tribe”.

The Wind-reader tribe, would be that. An existence that was, so to speak, like shamans who were in charge of the rituals of the entire steppes. They roam through the grasslands, raising birds and reading the wind. Their many wise men were spot on with the weather of that year.

Even among the pastoral nomads, which were rife with violent people, there was a tacit understanding. Don’t touch the Wind-reader tribe, that is.

Our tribe broke that rule.

So the next head of our tribe can get a wife, we attacked the Wind-reader tribe. They weren’t armed with bows or swords, as they had been right in the middle of a ritual. Why weren’t they armed? Strangely, what they needed for their ritual, were the birds they tamed and hoes.

The womenfolk observed the birds and the menfolk dug up the earth.

You probably don’t get it. However, that’s what we call a ritual. Aren’t they like farmers? the son of the tribal chief said. “Shoot them,” he said.

I drew back my bow. The arrow hit the air, drawing an arc, and directly hit the head of the Wind-reader tribal chief.

That signalled the start of the battle.

It took no skill to kill those people. They hadn’t been armed with anything remotely weaponlike and had just been digging up the soil. It was like chasing a wounded deer.

I later realised once it all ended, was that this plunder was the cruellest in my whole lifetime.

We did not hesitate in killing them. They, who had been respected as shamans. Rather, we had been crueller than usual.  We must have been uneasy about killing shamans. We might have thought that if they were left alive, they would tattle on the gods.

All the adult men were killed. For women, we left only the young ones. The brats, we sold off as slaves, and the birds they raised, we ate for dinner.

It must leave a bad taste. But this was what I had done. I had even felt exhilarated.

That’s why I failed to realise then.

A single drab bird had been pecking on the ground at the centre of the carnage. I didn’t pay any attention. I stabbed it. I later understood that it had been eating the seed of calamity.

After that, my tribe did however we liked. The son of the tribal chief violated a girl from the Wind-reader tribe, and she fell pregnant. It was when that girl was pregnant with her second child when it came.

A black shadow that blanketed the plains. A blackness like charcoal smeared haphazardly, which I had initially attributed to unseasonal rain clouds.

There was buzzing. The livestock were making a racket. The children pinched their skin in fear. The women hugged their children.

A man who went to scout it out came back a while later slumped over the back of his steed. Not just his clothes, even his skin and hair were tattered. The horse was riled up and took a lot of work to calm down. They were covered in tearing bite marks. We asked what attacked them.

You people look like you already know what came. However, let me speak. The people in the village don’t believe this story at all.

There was no need to ask the scout.

It soon caught up to our campsite.

They were insects. So many we couldn’t count. Locusts.

Clamorous wingbeats and grating chewing sounds. That attacked our yurts.

The goats that had been grazing scattered in surprise. The dogs could only howl like beaten mutts.

The men clumsily waved their blades around. Not like that hit anything. With that said, it was a completely bad move to wave a torch around. The locusts that catch fire would throw themselves onto the menfolk, so it led to more disaster.

I was simply stomping on the locusts on the ground, at a loss as to what was happening. The flying insects were two sun long, and yet, at the time, we were devoured into the giant bellies of the insects.

The women and children hid inside the yurts, but they slipped through the gaps. The brats screamed and cried out. The mothers, not able to soothe their children either, too, screamed. They cursed at the men who couldn’t save their families from the locusts. The women, who had been abducted and forced to become brides, were at their wit’s end, to the point of revealing their true feelings.

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The insects not only ate up the grass but our food supplies as well.

They started with wheat, beans, all sorts of vegetables, then even went for dried meat. It was when the insects were gone after boring holes through the yurt, we were left with countless dead insects and people exhausted from screaming.

Everything was eaten up. Our livestock also escaped.

We somehow caught hold of our horses and headed to the villages to obtain food supplies. Since our livelihood was based on stealing, we picked people who wouldn’t be identified. We did that, but…

As soon as we got close, we were pelted down with arrows. We didn’t think we would be shot without anyone checking. We left our comrades who were too slow to escape. We turned our backs to the hands that reached out for us.

Afterwards, we looked back. The villagers had retrieved our comrades and their horses.

You’ll probably get it if you think hard enough. We weren’t the only tribes starving after the locusts attacked everything.

The people we abandoned prayed for a painless death. I thought our prayers would be undeserving of us, having killed the priest tribe.

With no more food, we killed our few remaining livestock. We even got sick from adding grass to our soups. The hungry children ate locusts off the ground, but one of them died. I don’t know if the locusts had toxins or they ate it without plucking off its legs. From malnutrition, we had lost a lot of weight. With our food supply lacking, the weak would die first.

It goes without saying that the weak would be the pregnant woman who needed more nutrients than others.

Her body was emaciated. Only her belly was swollen. Her position was that of the wife of the next tribal chief, but following that tragedy, she hadn’t been able to eat decently. Her one child clung to her, sucking his thumb to mask hunger.

It was obvious the pregnancy resulted in a stillbirth.

The son of the tribal chief was despondent over the loss of his second child. The one who poured salt onto his wound was his wife, who had slumped over after giving birth.

“You disturbed the ritual. There’s no one left to go through with the Wind-reader ritual. Now and forever, the people of the steppes will be imperilled by insects for days to come.”

It was a couple of years after we massacred and abducted the tribe. Her words had been pent up for a long time. The woman laughed loudly, hugged her dead baby and malnourished child, then expired.

As the woman had said, it was the fault of our tribe who had disturbed the ritual at the start of this disaster. That became the talk.

My tribe was driven away as the enemy of the entire steppes.

It could only be described as reaping what we sowed. Even so, we were obsessed with staying alive.

We continued to eat grass, eat insects, occasionally killing, and occasionally escaping from being killed.

Starved men would eat the flesh of dead comrades. When that wasn’t enough, they tried to eat the living as well. My left eye was taken from an arrow shot by a guy who tried to eat me. I pulled out the arrow then and there and turned the tables on him.

I escaped, against both eating and being eaten. While I ran, I had nothing. I starved. I thirsted. Why, I ended up in the town following the smell of wheat gruel.

The bland congee the territory lord blessed me with from emergency rations, could have been mistaken as animal feed, but it had been delicious above all else.

I, with my face filthy from tears and snot, was detained by the guards at that moment. Apparently some resident in the town knew me to be a bandit. I had been in no mood to resist, and even thought it would be good to be taken into prison so I could eat. Being able to eat many meals before I get hanged, I was looking forward to just that.

But, the noose never looped around my neck.

Instead, my punishment was the finger I used to draw the bow. And I was made to become a serf. Considering what I had done, I still think my punishment was quite lenient.

The territory lord was also aware of the ritual of the Wind-reader tribe. The reason they were able to continue their perplexing ritual and eat, was because the territory lord protected the Wind-reader tribe. That there was reason to the perplexing ritual.

Eh, who was the territory lord? It’s the now late Ih Clan. It was the time before the upstart called Gyoku’en or whatever his name came in.

The Ih clan knew about the ritual of the Wind-reader tribe. That’s why, they decided to place serfs in various places, as a replacement of the tribe.

Unfortunately, I could only plough the fields. The Ih clan didn’t look like they understood how to handle birds very well either. I only have chickens.

It’s as you said. I am forced to live just to do the rituals. A sacrifice in the name of a serf.

Here is the village made up of the sacrifices. The shrine next to my house is to worship the people of the Wind-reader tribe we killed. As reparations to killing the shamans, as reparations to invoking the calamity, I pay with my insignificant life. As you can see around you, without a doubt, it’s insufficient, though.

Well, there’s also a story from seventeen years ago.

With the death of the Ih clan, the serfs went away as they pleased. Among those, there were also idiots who returned to their family trade of robbing. Since they were originally violent people. Hmm, from the looks of you, it looks like you came across some, huh.

Eh, why did I stay behind?

No big deal. I don’t want to be eaten by locusts a second time.

I don’t want a second time…

Well, this is my long tale.

Any questions?

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- my thoughts:
Changing "I clan" to "Ih clan" just to make it easier. Also, that's it for double releases for the time being. Hope you guys enjoyed that :)
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