Manu sat at home thinking over his options. He was reluctant to leave this house his ancestors had put together collecting stones lying about in abundance in the rain channel. Most times a gentle stream supplied them with their drinking water and washing and cooking needs but when seasonal deluges hit these hills it became a raging torrent of water that scoured banks revealing stones out of which his tribe had constructed walls around their own homes. Rows of these stone houses dotted the hills, and everyone worked together within the bounds of cultural practice that had always been known in these hills. Manu was the acknowledged head of the Pahad tribe who interpreted rules and applied them in judgment when conflict arose. His family had long been acknowledged as rulers of the hills and he was the current chief.
Clay sealed stone house walls into a smooth surface inside and outside and dung from their cattle provided plaster holding it all in place when dried out and sealing out weather. Thatch on the roof replaced frequently kept out rain but allowed smoke from the cooking area to pass through somewhat unhindered. He had no idea when the original ancestors had taken trouble to build this spacious home but was glad it belonged to him as present custodian and it would be passed on to his eldest son to occupy and fill with his own family in time with Manu having the option to remain there in retirement until his death if he wished. His other sons would move out and fend for themselves as they reached maturity, and daughters would become property of one of his tribe’s male members. That was their way from antiquity.
The Pahad tribe had lived a predictable life up to this time. However, from the far reaches of his mountain kingdom word had been filtering through for some time a mixed-race people were beginning to encroach on Manu’s territory pushing out its original inhabitants and blocking them from the use of common lands they’d always hunted in. This emerging new race spoke a similar language to Manu’s tribe and were the product of peoples from the plains who were taller and more quarrelsome who’d taken wives from the Pahad’s and Pahad men who’d intermarried with the plains people. The Pahad language had been slightly modified in this mix into a different but understandable dialect with some of the plains people’s language intermixed.
Nevertheless, those who spoke like Manu could understand them if they listened carefully for common expression. As each successive year passed Manu’s hold over traditional lands had diminished to the point where those Pahads dispossessed had escaped for protection to territories still under control of Manu. Considerable territory had been lost on slopes leading to the plains and remaining hunting grounds now had a much larger population striving to survive on whatever was available to eat.
The Pahad’s were a peaceful people who’d started to defend their turf rather than run and were learning fighting methods to defend their territory. Plains people had weapons the Pahad’s had not possessed but they’d long since began to value and trade for these weapons to protect themselves. They’d learned plains people were no match for them in the mountains for as tall as they might be the hills people small but stronger and much more agile were able to use steepness of the terrain to their advantage. However, the new peoples who’d intermarried and moved to the hills had learned mountain survival techniques and had the advantage of both strength and height over the Pahad’s. They were a dangerous foe potentially winning the battle for the hills.
Manu had received word from the front line to the southeast where mountains gently sloped down to plains those people were beginning to move higher and higher up to cultivate land and, in the process, pushing the new people further up into mountain strongholds squeezing Manu’s territory. There’d been several clashes with casualties on both sides as Manu’s tribe had learned to defend their territory better.
Messengers had been sent to Manu at his capital in the hills the new people confederation wanted to meet him and come to a compromise so they could mount common defence against encroachment by the plains people. Manu knew those eastern slopes were indefensible because of the sheer numbers of plains people who could easily overpower him with their physical size and superior weapons in more favourable territory for them to fight and conquer. They’d already denuded those slopes of dense tree coverage to trade its timber and convert to terraced farmlands.
Steep mountains he could historically defend from plains people but now the new people were familiar with these mountains and had adapted to living and fighting in them he considered them to be his closest enemy. Perhaps he needed to meet them firsthand to size up just how strong an enemy they were and then make plans to drive them back out of his hills.
He sent scouts out to maintain lookouts covering northern trails to the plains. The west facing the ocean consisted of cliffs no army would be able to scale so he had no concerns there but northeast had steep but accessible trails he needed to continue to guard while he moved south to inspect his current enemy and he needed the bulk of his mountain tribe to protect him while meeting enemy leaders in whatever remained of his traditional mountain strongholds in the southeast. He and his troop arrived at the chosen dialogue location a day after setting out. He set up camp and began to survey his enemy and their guard within quick striking distance. His own guards were put on shifts lasting two hours each until they’d pull back to safer territory after talking next day.
The following day a shelter was constructed by the mixed-race confederation at a midpoint between the guards on either side of a temporary declared neutral ground. Manu was to be accompanied by a personal guard and interpreter to the shelter and whoever was to represent the confederation of new people would also bring a personal guard and interpreter though interpreting was probably not necessary. Food for the occasion would be brought with them for their own use as each feared poisoning by the other.
Manu exhaled in surprise as he saw the representative of the confederation approach their neutral meeting shelter after he’d seated himself. It was his younger brother Buroo. They warily embraced then sat facing each other. Pleasant greetings were exchanged then Manu inquired what his brother was doing representing his current enemy. Buroo explained when he’d been sent from his father’s home to grant Manu control over the Pahad Tribe, he’d moved south looking for a place to establish a family and far enough away to not be considered a challenge to Manu as chief.
At that time the new people driven out of the slopes by plains people were seeking refugee status in Manu’s lands and Buroo had been drawn to one of their women as a suitable wife. Within a couple of years this traditional Pahad territory had an overwhelming population of new people. They were at peace within this location but constantly at war with plains people who fought for mountain resources like timber. When they lost a battle, they moved further into Pahad territory for protection and that’s when the Pahad tribe suddenly realized they were being culturally absorbed and conflict between the two somewhat related people began. They were hoping for an understanding with Manu so the two nations could coexist.
Manu studied his brother Buroo carefully. His manner had not been threatening but facts were the group he represented had been involved in aggression and there’d been injury and death. That could not be lightly forgiven. Yet reality was in an outright war for control of the mountains Manu was not sure he’d be able to win. He finally drew the conversation from memories growing up together to the issue at hand.
“Buroo what is the purpose of this meeting?”
“My chief while I’ve been chosen to speak with you for obvious reasons it being we are related the confederation operates not as we Pahad do traditionally but by a council of elders of which I’m only one. They know the Pahad understand these mountains and have ruled here from antiquity. They have rejected the plains way of living and adopted the ways of these mountains. While their men are strong enough to fight anyone man to man facts are the plains people have taken a significant part of traditional Pahad territory on the slopes where we once lived. We were content to dwell in that area but by sheer weight of numbers, plains people now hold these slopes, and we cannot gain territory back in warfare from them. Too many of them. That means mixed-race people who are rapidly populating in the area now occupied do not have sufficient hunting grounds to survive. That is why some hot heads in our midst have caused trouble between us. The council does not want to go to war with you and Pahad citizens, but the elders see conflict will come in future unless the new people are allowed to intermingle with the Pahads. They propose we form one people, that you continue to be recognized as chief and make decisions for all in consultation with a council of elders selected from each district some of which are presently controlled by us and some you would select from heads of families in the territory you control which is presently the bulk of these mountains. That is their proposal. If you decide not to accept that proposal, they will respect that but clearly see as their population increases in the limited area they are living in there will be conflict in future, and they’d like to avoid that if possible. They’d like to know what you think.”
“Buroo you are my brother and part of a proud heritage. Why have you joined this group as it appears to me you no longer respect your Pahad ancestry?
“Chief Manu our custom has always been that once the eldest son of the Pahad Chief has taken the place of his father his siblings must disperse so there is no potential challenge to leadership. I followed custom and moved far away within what was once undisputed Pahad territory. But over time others moved in from the new people and you did not challenge them. They are in the majority now and have treated me well giving me respect as one of the elders. I have married one of them and have a happy life, but I am loyal to the Pahad heritage. They chose me to speak with you rather than confront you, but their concerns are real, and their population has reached a point where they need new areas to occupy so they observe some among them will challenge the unofficial boundary as pressure for survival mounts even without their permission.”
“Buroo what if I told you I’d not permit any further encroachment of Pahad territory, what would be your elder’s committee reaction to that?”
“They’d understand and respect you for it but equally understand pressure for living space from their people would make it difficult to control those who were desperate to survive. They feel if the Pahad accept them as part of one mountain nation resisting the plains people it would be in everyone’s interest. But that means there would be no limitations on movement throughout the mountain. They’d pay homage to you as Chief among them.”
Manu thought for a few minutes before responding.
“Buroo you can inform your elders I’ll call a meeting of heads of clans within Pahad territory and give them a response in two weeks. I’d like you to attend that meeting as an observer and you can convey our response to your council and report their reaction back to me.”
So, the neutral meeting shelter was taken down and Manu and his attendants withdrew to their capital. Runners were dispatched through the mountains to assemble heads of clans and Buroo was requested by his elders in council to attend that meeting as their ambassador. At the grand convention at the capital Buroo was requested to repeat the proposal in front of the assembled Pahad clan heads. There was a spirited debate. Initially the consensus was new people should be confronted at the present undeclared border and driven out of traditional lands. However, as Buroo described the size, strength, and possession of weapons these people had and how they’d treated him well in all the years he’d lived among them tempers subsided and the realism of their situation dawned on most of them.
Basically, their choice was to resist and over time be absorbed by this new race potentially angry and antagonistic or agree to merge them with the Pahad as a co-mingled people happily under the direction of their own chief with a council of elders to participate in decision making. The more they thought of being part of the decision making through a council of elders the more they warmed to the idea. The majority indicated their support and Buroo was dispatched to invite the council of new people elders to come to the capital for a formal agreement immediately while clan elders lingered at the capital to await their arrival.
Manu watched developments with apprehension. It was plain to him while this was the only sensible decision his powers over the Pahad would be diluted as the amalgamated council of elders would be a part of decisions made on administration of the mountains in future. Eventually he foresaw a time when the right of his family to pass on chieftain status to the eldest son would be challenged and power blocks would form within the council that could threaten stability in administration. But that would probably be beyond his lifetime and his son would probably face that eventuality. What if that challenge came within his lifetime?
So that is why he sat in his home thinking about his options. The thought of this spacious stone home added to over the centuries to accommodate the needs of the paramount Pahad chief and his descendants passing on to those not of his family line was heavy on his heart. It would probably be considered property of the comingled nation and a place of meeting rather than a home for his family in future. He was already beginning to see these tall strong people of the mixed race moving through the farthest reaches of this territory. They’d adapted to mountain ways and in time they’d be the ones to carry responsibility for mountain defence against incursions by plains people and already some among them were beginning to cut down tall trees to trade against the protests of traditional owners. It could not be stopped now.
He turned to his eldest son squatting opposite on a mat. His son was now mature and strong enough to take responsibility from his tired father and he’d been taking weapons and martial arts training from some of the new people warriors.
“There will be a council of the elders next week and I’ll be informing them I’m passing on the chieftain responsibility to you son. When the ceremony has concluded I’ll be making my last trip to the top of spirit mountain to meditate in my last days on this earth. I expect you to carry on the noble responsibilities of your ancestors in this position and serve the mountain people with fairness and care. Go and prepare yourself for your new responsibilities. You now have a diverse people to administer so need to exercise wisdom and discretion. Make sure to counsel with the elders in your inexperience.”
Manu raised his hand in blessing, then motioned for his son to leave. He must now prepare himself for the next stage of his life meditating on spirit mountain before leaving the cares of this life behind him.
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