"When an ill wind blows, tongues rustle like grass." – Gam proverb
The Elders' Meeting had all the looks of a building thunderstorm.
Chief Rahi sat on the throne, chained by his javelin-hand to one reinforced arm. His face was set, his posture rigid and restrained, but firelight glared in his eyes as he faced the Council. They were not looking at him, however; they were focused, slack-jawed, upon Elder Krek, who was standing before him on the opposite side of the fire.
Elder Tka was the first to break the stunned silence.
"Wildfire talk has no place in the Council Den, Elder Krek," he said quietly.
Krek spat. "Wildfire talk! Pah!" He pointed an accusing claw at the Chief. "Everyone can see the truth in this. Everyone knows how this chief spends his time."
Rahi growled from deep inside his throat. "My daughter," he said, with admirable restraint, "is not a topic for discussion."
"I believe she is – or rather your dubious plans for her!"
"Dubious?" came the shrill voice of another Elder. "The Chief may choose whatever successor he wishes, Krek!"
"The trials, then!" Krek fired back. "So you think testing a daughter Gam-Hi-Gee is honorable, do you? In the manner of a son...?"
"Daughter or son! What difference does it make?"
"Sheer and utter blasphemy! What of our Ancestors? What of tradition..."
Elder Tka stood, his voice rising now. "Enough, Krek!" he thundered. "You have defiled the Council Den already with your rumors!"
Krek's mouth snapped shut. He was a big Elder, heavy and tall, but inside he was soft and slimy as a hlk-slug. He sat down, edging his rotundity back into the shadows.
Krek was loud, and courted danger in the Council Den – especially with a chief like Rahi. The Chief would have launched his javelin, hit this bird-leg square in the throat and pinned him to the wall, but the chain on his throwing arm prevented him. An ingenious stroke of statesmanship, this, put into use after the reign of Mad Chief Ablobek. Lucky, that chain. Otherwise, many, many Elders would die.
Another Elder stood, using his attendant for support. "Deplorable," he said, so quietly that the Council could barely hear him. "Deplorable." He was very old, and a terrible speaker, and soon lapsed into a long and winding tangent. The other Elders sat forward irritably, straining to hear him.
Tka kept his eyes on the Chief. He had his own guard, Rahi did, a big Gam, standing motionless on Rahi's left. One gesture, and then the Elders would be dead – but the Elders had their own guard, too, standing on the other side of the fire. Two guards: twins, both vast of leg and limb. Another ingenious stroke, an utter détente. And for Rahi, Tka knew, it was an irritant beyond endurance.
"...So that," the barely audible Elder said in closing, "is the most important part of all."
He sat down in silence, overcome, it seemed, by his own eloquence. The rest of the Council looked around at each other and nodded sagely, pretending to get the point. Only Rahi remained motionless.
A dark figure stood now.