I've written the beginning of Chapter Eight about a dozen times trying to find something that I could work with. I think I may be on to something now, but I wanted the opinion of the forum before moving forward.
Here it is:
Mohalla entered the tent. On the floor before him knelt one of the Gamas Witans who had been captured for questioning after the assault on their Witanagemot. Mohalla took a deep breath, preparing his mind to be the person he needed to be to deal with the man before him.
Most of the Witans had been killed outright, then the others later were killed one by one as they proved to be of little further use. Most had yielded no information or what information they gave was useless or suspect. Mohalla respected the courage of these men and therefore had given them honorable deaths. There were a few that had betrayed their people and had spoken at great length in hopes of earning the mercy of their captors. The information gained was mostly useless, and they were given a cowards death.
The one before him, however, had not been questioned. Mohalla already knew everything he needed to know that this man could tell him. His spies had followed the Witan from the beginning. No, his use for this man had little to do with any information the old man could give him.
Mohalla crouched before his prisoner and looked him in the face. The man he faced wore a thick white beard on a round face. The lines on his face told a story to the warchief that words could not. This was a man of emotional extremes, as quick with a hearty laugh as he could be with a menacing threat. Normally such features were worn by fools with little self control and a great deal to prove to others in order to mask their own cowardice. Yet this man before him held his gaze evenly and defiantly. This was no coward before him, but a man of great strength and great love. The face reminded Mohalla of his uncle.
The warchief regretted the admission. His uncle had made him the man he was to become. To see this prisoner as a kindred spirit made his present task all the more difficult. Still, he could admit that the Witan was worthy of his respect, even as an enemy.
Mohalla stood, and walked around to the man’s back, where his hands were bound. He untied the bonds, then came back around to face the man and extended his hand. The old man watched him cautiously, then reached out and took the outstretched hand and came to his feet, wincing at the pain as the circulation returned to his extremities.
“Have you been fed today?” Mohalla asked the man, who nodded the affirmative. “Has my healer seen your health?” he asked as he handed the man a skin of water to drink. The man nodded once before taking a cautious drink of water.
Mohalla took a deep breath of satisfaction. “Very good!” he said, then he motioned for men waiting outside to enter. The first was Mohalla’s advisor, a Shaman named Heleu. Two guards followed and took places on either side of the prisoner, who began backing away from his captors in alarm. The guards seized his wrists and held him steady.
The Shaman approached the prisoner, carrying a bowl and a knife. Without hesitating, as though dealing with a beast of burden rather than a fellow human being, the Shaman cut the shirt off the prisoner, exposing his chest. He reached down into a pouch hanging at his side. His hand came back bloody. Mohalla knew that the pouch contained the blood of two wolves killed earlier that day.
Mohalla had not received formal training as a Shaman, but he and his family had always shared a close connection to the spirit world. Now, as the Shaman worked on the prisoner, Mohalla could feel the barriers to the spirit world open. He savored the feeling of euphoria it created.
The Shaman smeared the blood on the Witan’s chest, kneading it into the skin. The Witan ceased his struggling as the power of the Shaman overpowered his senses. The Shaman motioned for the guards to release the man, and when they did he stood half limp, as if suspended by a cord attached to the top of his head. Now the power of the spirit world began coming from the prisoner as well as the Shaman. Mohalla could almost see the energy coming off them in waves. He swayed on his feet as each wave washed over him. He fought the urge to giggle at the sensation.
Now the Shaman took the knife into his hand, and began carving into the prisoner’s chest. The prisoner didn’t react to the blade entering his flesh. He simply stood, swaying gently, as though in a peaceful sleep. Blood poured from the cuts in his chest, obscuring the image of what was being carved there. Eventually the Shaman finished, then he held the bowl under the wounds to catch the blood. When the bowl was filled, the Shaman stepped back, creating some space between them.
He dipped is finger into the blood, then traced a design on his own forehead. Then he lifted his hands into the air, still holding the bowl of blood and the knife. As he did this, the prisoner mimicked his actions. Now the power coming off of them both was stronger, pulsating quickly like a heartbeat. Mohalla moaned gently in ecstasy. He was having trouble keeping his eyes open, but he forced himself to stay vigilant, not wanting to miss the climax of the ritual. He could see the waves clearly now. They appeared as distortions in space and reminded him somewhat of the ripples forming in a pool of water that has been disturbed.
Mohalla noticed that in the center of the space between the Shaman and the Witan, right where the waves of energy collided, a still space was forming. It looked somewhat like a gently swirling vortex almost too small to see, but it was growing in size quickly. Before long, it filled the space between them. Just then, the cuts on the prisoner’s chest began to glow a searing red. Mohalla could see that the image carved into his chest had been a wolf’s head.
The Witan’s expression, which up until now had been peaceful and reposed, was now one of agony as the wolf’s head burned into his flesh. Something moved in the center of the vortex, as if struggling to escape. Mohalla gasped in anticipation.
The prisoner’s body convulsed, and he began to raise from the ground. He let out an agonizing groan as the wolf’s head burned brighter. The waves of spirit energy in the tent had reached a fever pitch, causing Mohalla to fall briefly to one knee before forcing himself back up to his feet. The movement from within the vortex twisted violently, as if clawing its way into the world.
Suddenly, the Shaman tossed the bowl of blood into the air, then as it fell, he slashed at it with the knife, causing the blood to splash across the dirt of the floor in a gruesome slash of red. At that moment, something exploded, causing Mohalla’s ears to pop painfully from the pressure. He clapped his hands over his ears, as if to block out the pain.
Then he realized that the energy in the air was gone. He opened his eyes to see what had happened. The guards were both sitting on the ground, looking as bewildered as he did. The Shaman, Heleu, was crouched over the blood on the ground, muttering to himself. He looked around for the prisoner. He finally found him on the opposite side of the tent. The shock wave had thrown him into the corner. He put his fingers to the other man’s neck, and he felt no pulse.
He had expected the man would die from the ritual, but he regretted it no less. He had truly respected the man, who in another life might have been a great friend and ally. But his need was much greater than his sense of kinship for his enemy. He turned away from the dead Witan, and came to face the Shaman, who still crouched in the dirt. “Was it successful, Heleu?”
The Shaman looked up and nodded, smiling confidently. “Look at the tracks in the blood, Mohalla. There are two of them.” He pointed to two sets of red wolf tracks leading away from the pool of blood towards the entrance to the tent. “They will hunt down the man from across the sea and the boy who helps him. It is assured.”
Mohalla knew better than to accept that as a promise. Things of the spirit world were always in flux, and you could never be sure of anything. Yet, in all the rituals Mohalla had attended, that had been one of the most powerful. It would take every ounce of his enemies’ abilities and a good measure of luck to overcome this spell.
He turned his attention back to the dead prisoner. He signaled to the guards to approach. “This man was an honorable enemy, who in different times might have been a friend. Give the honored Witan Tharill a funeral befitting his high station.” The guards saluted, then moved to carry Tharill’s body away.
Mohalla took another deep breath, giving the Witan one last thought of respect, before he put the matter from his mind. His war against tribe Gamas could now receive his full attention.