‘Who’s Omago?’ Zelana asked.

‘He’s a very solid, dependable fellow with an extensive orchard near my house. He knows more about farming than anybody else in my Domain does, and he’s a very good listener. Other farmers come to him for advice, and they tell him about any unusual things that are happening. Then he passes them onto me.’

‘He’s the chief, then?’ Longbow asked.

‘I wouldn’t go quite that far, Longbow. He gives advice, not orders.’

‘It sort of amounts to the same thing, wouldn’t you say? A good chief does things that way. Only bad chieftains order their men around. Fortunately, they don’t usually last very long.’

‘He’s got a point there, Veltan,’ I agreed. ‘You might want to consider getting word to this Omago fellow. Let him know what’s in the wind, and have him pass the word along. Your people should know that the creatures of the Wasteland are coming, and they need to start getting ready for war.’

‘That’s absurd, Dahlaine,’ Veltan scoffed. ‘My people don’t even know what the word “war” means. That’s why I had to hire Narasan’s army. Omago can probably make certain that the hired soldiers get plenty to eat, but that’s likely to be his only contribution during the war.’ He smiled faintly. ‘Of course, if we can persuade Ara to do the cooking, we might have some trouble persuading the outlanders to go home after the war’s over.’

‘Who’s Ara?’ Zelana asked.

‘Omago’s wife. She’s a beautiful lady and quite probably the best cook in the world. The smells that come from her kitchen even tempt me sometimes.’

‘Oh, incidentally, Veltan,’ I cut in, ‘Aracia and I’d like to bring the commanders of the armies we’ve been hiring down to your Domain to observe. I’m sure they’ll be coming up against the servants of the Vlagh sometime soon, and it might not be a bad idea for them to see what they’ll encounter.’

‘No problem, big brother,’ Veltan said with an impudent sort of grin. ‘I’ll go tell Narasan and Sorgan that it’s time to go South, and then I’ll have my pet take me home so that I can have a talk with Omago. For right now, that’s about as far as we can go. Everything’s sort of up in the air at this point, so we might have to make things up as we go along.’

‘What else is new and different?’ I said sourly. ‘Looking back, I’d say that we’ve been doing that since the very beginning.’

‘Of this war, you mean?’ Zelana suggested.

‘I wouldn’t limit it to that, my sister. We’ve been making things up as we went along since the beginning of time, haven’t we?’

‘It makes life much more interesting, big brother,’ she said with an impish sort of grin. ‘Things always seem to get so boring if you know exactly what’s going to happen, don’t they?’

I chose not to answer that particular question.

The SouthLand

Omago’s father owned the fields and orchards lying just to the north of Veltan’s huge house, and that proximity had made Omago look upon Veltan more as a neighbor than a ruler - or a god. Veltan didn’t make a big issue of his divinity, and so Omago had always felt comfortable in his presence.

As a child, Omago had much preferred working in his father’s orchard rather than in the open fields, mostly because it was shady in the orchard, but in the springtime when the fruit trees bloomed, the beauty of the blossoms almost took his breath away.

He soon discovered that he was not alone in that appreciation. When the fruit trees were in bloom Veltan almost lived in the orchard, and as the two of them came to know each other better, they spent many hours talking. Their discussions were wide-ranging, and almost without realizing it, the boy Omago was receiving an education that went far beyond the tedious business of digging, planting, and harvesting.

Veltan’s Domain here in the South of the Land of Dhrall, for example, was only a part of the entire continent. There were three others that were owned by Veltan’s brother and his two sisters. Veltan’s descriptions of his kin were so amusing that Omago frequently burst out laughing. He found Veltan’s description of the people of the West and North somewhat tantalizing, though. He simply could not imagine a life spent hunting. Some times he’d tried his hand at fishing, but he wasn’t really very good at it, and it seemed that hunting and fishing might be a very chancy sort of thing to depend on if somebody wanted to keep eating regularly. Veltan’s descriptions of the deep primeval forests, noble deer crowned with antlers, and buckskin-clad hunters stirred some longings in young Omago, though. There wasn’t really much in the way of adventure here in the farmland of the South where the primary desire of the inhabitants was stability. Stability was good for farming, but it wasn’t really very exciting.

Veltan didn’t go into too many details about his own peculiarities during those extended springtime conversations, but Omago had already heard about most of them. At first, the stories other farmers passed on had seemed wildly exaggerated to young Omago, but as he came to know Veltan better, he’d been reluctantly forced to accept them. He’d never seen Veltan so much as taste any food, and not once had he even seen him close his eyes.

It was shortly after Omago’s ninth birthday when the question of alternate gods came up. The two of them were sitting in the orchard, and a strong breeze was showering them with a near blizzard of apple-blossom petals.

‘You don’t have to answer this if you’d rather not, Veltan,’ Omago said a bit hesitantly, ‘but old man Enkar told me that you haven’t always been the god of this part of the Land of Dhrall. He said that somebody else used to take care of things around here. Is that really true, or was he just making it up to fool me?’

Veltan shrugged. ‘It’s fairly close to what really happens, Omago,’ he replied. ‘It might seem that we never sleep, but that’s not entirely true. We have cycles of sleep and wakefulness, and after we’ve been awake for a long time, we start to get a little fuzzy in our minds. We can’t remember things, and we start behaving just a bit strange. That’s a clear sign that it’s time for us to get some sleep - and it’s just about at that time that the other branch of the family wakes up. Then they take care of things while we sleep.’

‘I guess that makes sense - sort of,’ Omago admitted. ‘How well do you know these cousins of yours?’