This time around, Lorist and Reidy did not have to walk and instead rode a Northlander Horse surrounded by the rest of the troupe. Perhaps the barbarians were shocked at how skilled they were at building that house and began treating them more nicely. Even the ration of meat they were given during the travels were the same as the other barbarians.
'Perspectives can be deceiving'. Lorist found that saying to be especially true. Even though that Fuji Mountain-like volcano seemed really close to them, the troupe spent more than half a day to arrive at its foot. They had to pass through a black pine forest before circling around two smaller hills before Lorist was able to see their destination. Halfway up the mountain was a large military base which was fortified with a wall constructed from messily stacked up rocks.
As the troupe of the Whitesnow Mountain chief approached the base, a blowing horn could be heard coming from the walls of the base. Ashu, who was riding behind Lorist, told him that the horn signalled that they were welcome and that the base was the meeting point for the Habibaba Tribe. The Jambassen who returned yesterday from his military campaign had impatiently sent for someone to notify his daughter, the mountain chief, to meet him.
When they arrived at the entrance of the base, Lorist realized that it only had a wooden gate sealing the entrance. When he entered, he saw that the setup of the base was not unlike that of normal flatlander settlements with the houses on both sides of the streets having stone walls. But what intrigued Lorist was the structure of the roofs of the various houses which were all over the place.
The talkative Ashu spared Lorist the trouble of asking and explained the origins of the base to him. It was said that tens of years ago, there was a brave, young warrior of the Habibaba Tribe that had always wanted to venture to the flatlands and understand how the people lived. And so, he left the tribe on a journey to explore the world.
But the world he soon found himself in was a cruel one. The moment he arrived in flatlander society, he was captured and turned into a slave and was forced to construct buildings for the towns and cities of the flatlanders. After 40 years of toiling away, he was abandoned due to his old age and disease. But he managed to survive as a beggar and made his way back to the Habibaba Tribe despite the odds.
The former warrior barbarian, now old and sick, regretted his past decisions greatly and felt horrible because he wasn't able to contribute to the tribe that had raised him. So, he decided to use his experience and knowledge of building that he gained during his 40 years of slaving away to construct a mighty base for the Habibaba Tribe. Unfortunately, right after he finished building the main palace and was halfway done with the rest of the base, he passed away and returned to the embrace of the mountain deities. Having lost the guidance of the barbarian architect, the other barbarians improvised and made roofs of all kinds of styles, resulting in the lack of uniformity for the buildings that Lorist saw.
Ashu proudly said that the base, Balibak Citadel, was named after the barbarian architect.
While Lorist was not the least bit interested in what the base was called, he was curious about the palace Ashu mentioned as he didn't know that barbarians would be able to construct one.
After walking for more than half an hour, the palace was right in front of Lorist's eyes.
"Pffft!" Lorist couldn't hold his laughter back and thought, can you even call this a palace? This is obviously a canteen built for the construction workers! The only difference is that the wooden building in the middle is two times bigger than those in normal canteens!
The building in the middle was actually a wooden steeple. Using the wood they got from the Black Forests as its square base foundation, it was built with a pointed roof. On the sides of the steeple were two long wooden buildings that resembled the sleeping chambers of construction laborers, with the only difference being that they were built using timber. Normal construction laborer housing wouldn't use materials that expensive.
Ashu furrowed his brow and said, "What are you laughing about? We're here at the palace, so be more serious..."
Lorist shut his mouth immediately and managed to stop his laughter. What a joke! This is the palace of the barbarians? I really did learn something interesting from this trip after all...
The chief of Whitesnow Mountain at the front dismounted and nodded to her few attendants before pointing towards Lorist and Reidy and telling Ashu to get another attendant to hold both of his prisoners and escort them into the palace.
Lorist later confirmed that the 'palace' was indeed modeled after a canteen. Before they even entered the building, the loud chattering from within could be heard clearly. Once inside, he saw what resembled a large canteen hall. The whole place was lined with 4 long tables arranged in parallel on each side with only a 2-meter-wide walkway between the tables for people to cross. Each of the tables sat 20 or so people and kudzu roots, fruits and roasted meat were served to them. There was an estimated 200 people feasting away within that room, with some getting so drunk that they began to cause trouble by harassing the barbarian waitresses who were serving the food and others standing on their tables and singing out loud. Lorist even witnessed a few big-built barbarian men humping away with a few barbarian women in the corner.
The walkway was rather long and at its end was an elevated platform on which a wide table filled with food stood. Behind it sat a lion-like muscular man who looked at the chaos within the hall with a lazy gaze, occasionally smiling as he drank more alcohol from his silver cup.
Seeing the mountain chief approach him, that huge man revealed a loving smile and began to laugh out loud. His laughter reverberated throughout the canteen, or 'palace' hall, and caused the chatters and laughters to stop. "Oh, my dear, the most beautiful flower of Fire Spirit Mountain and shiniest pearl of Whitesnow Mountain... You're here! Hahahaha, come over quick. Let daddy take a good look at how my beloved songbird is doing..."
The mountain chief said in an annoyed voice, "Daddy, why are you being so loud? You frightened the rest of them," before she leaped into the bosom of the huge man and said, "Daddy, this time you left for such a long time... I wasn't able to see you for a whole year..."
Patting on the shoulder of the mountain chief lovingly, the man said, "My little princess, it's not that daddy doesn't want to get back here sooner, but that old lion Bilulu just didn't want to admit his loss. Had it not been for the winter, daddy here would have stayed there longer and take that old lion's den. I will spare his life for now and if is still defiant to me, I will go there to teach him another lesson next year. Haha, daddy also found a nice husband for you this time around. My beautiful songbird is already an adult and it's about time you got married. Alik, come here."
On the table left to the mountain chief's father, a tall and large barbarian youth stood up and stepped before the mountain chief and her father. With both hands crossed at his chest, he bowed to the mountain chief and said, "I've long heard about the great name of the chief of Whitesnow Mountain. I, Alik, am a fond admirer of yours. May Kubawesson bless you with protection, the prettiest moon of my heart..."
The mountain chief looked at Alik curiously, causing him to lower his head shyly under her intense gaze.
The large man laughed out loud and said, "My beloved songbird, Alik here is really famous and he's already a leader in the Enbri Tribe and is also a Ten Ringed Ulay. If he did not lead his 300 Ulays to penetrate that old lion's defense line, daddy here might have fallen into the lion's trap and won't be able to return. That's why I brought him here to see you, so bring him around and show him our mountains and livestock, understood?"
The mountain chief blushed as her father had called her to show her future husband the livestock they would be offering as dowry. If all went as planned, her wedding with Alik was basically set in stone.
"Huh? Who are those two?" asked the huge man after he saw Lorist and Reidy who were surrounded by four of the mountain chief's attendants.
"Daddy, they are the flatlander slaves with high statuses that I captured. Look, this is his badge," said the chief of Whitesnow Mountain as she gave Lorist's academy and instructor badges to her father before stealing a glance at Alik to see his expression, obviously feeling that her capture of Lorist and Reidy was a praiseworthy achievement.
Her father laughed out and said, "My darling, flatlanders are really cunning, so don't you go around getting tricked by them. Bring them before me so that I can ask them myself."
The mountain chief said, "Daddy, this flatlander is quite skilled and said that he's an architectural instructor and knows how to build houses. But the house he built wasn't as big as the palace and it even looks weird, like a steep mountain."
Lorist and Reidy were promptly brought forward. As the man played around with the two badges, he looked at Lorist like a predator did its prey. "Tell me about who you are... Hmmm..."
Stepping forward, Lorist bowed before reciting the lies he told about his career as a Gold ranked architectural instructor from the Dawn Academy, his grudge with his enemy who chased him all the way into the river up to his rescue by the mountain chief and his reunion with his student that was currently mentally ill and mute.
The large man stopped Lorist before he finished and asked, "What kind of thing is an architectural instructor?"
"Well, respected Jambassen, an architectural instructor is not a thing... You can think of it as a person who teaches others how to build..." Not knowing how to answer the Jambassen, Lorist changed his phrasing to better explain what he meant.
The large man laughed out loud and said, "You? Teaching others to build? Are you fitting enough for that task? You're still so young, who would believe that you can teach others to build? Also, how can you prove that you do know how to teach if that was the case?"
One annoying thing about the barbarians was that they only believed in things they could see.
Lorist looked at the large man's table and saw a huge bowl with one cooked kudzu root within. Taking it from the bowl and placing it on the table, he flipped the bowl over and took the dagger that was pierced into the roasted meat. After that, he cut a few fruits into cubes and placed them on the upwards-facing bottom of the bowl. He then removed the skin from the piping hot kudzu root and gradually turned it into paste form before applying some to the fruit cubes on top of the bowl. In a few short moments, a mini castle could be seen.
The large man, Alik and the mountain chief were flabbergasted when they saw Lorist use nothing but a simple dagger to make a small white castle on top of the bowl.
Lorist then put the dagger back down before retreating a few steps. After bowing again, he said, "Great Jambassen, this is how I teach others to build."
The huge man scratched his head as he looked at the kudzu castle on the table before looking back at Lorist, seemingly at a loss for what to say. Just before, he had mocked Lorist for being young and inexperienced, but he didn't expect that Lorist could build a small beautiful castle like that out of nowhere, proving him wrong without giving him any face. Understanding how awkward it was for her father, the mountain chief said, "Not bad, this castle looks really nice. Can we build something like that too?"
Lorist nodded and said, "Respected mountain chief, it is definitely possible. However, it will no doubt require lots of time, manpower and some resources only obtainable from the flatlanders."
"How long will it take?" she asked.
"Based on your conditions here, I estimate that it will take at least three to four years and more than 10000 workers," Lorist said, greatly exaggerating the magnitude of the project.
Furrowing her brow, the mountain chief said, "If it'll take that long, forget it. What about building a palace like this one that belongs to my daddy?"
Lorist replied, "Oh, this won't take long. You only need three months and 1000 workers. However, respected mountain chief, it is not the right time to build right now and we have to wait until summer comes to begin our work. It is not possible to do so in the snow and rain."
The huge man patted on his thigh and said, "When I was still small, it took Balibak one whole year to build this palace for my father. Since you said that you're almost as skilled as him, then build another palace like this when summer comes next year. It will serve well as my daughter and Alik's new home. Then, it's decided."
The mountain chief began acting spoiled again with her father, who merely laughed out and waved for Lorist and Reidy to be brought away.
In the following five to six days, Lorist and Reidy were kept locked inside an old stone house. Ashu visited them a few times and said that the mountain chief had been bringing Alik around to see the sheeps and cows and their relationship was developing fast after spending most of their time together. In a few more days, Alik would return to his tribe and move them here to merge it with the Whitesnow Tribe before getting married with the Whitesnow Mountain chief.
Lorist noticed that Ashu seemed quite down when he talked about the matter, as the playmate from his childhood was going to marry another man. While jealousy and envy was hard to let go off, when compared with Alik, a Four Ringed Ulay like Ashu really wasn't appealing enough. It was the sad case of a plebeian falling in love with his master.
Two days later, snow started falling near the mountains, marking the arrival of winter. Lorist and Reidy were released from the stone house by Ashu and were told that they would return to the Whitesnow Tribe on that day. He and a few other attendants brought Lorist to a high vantage point where hundreds of people gathered and said that those people were the men of the Whitesnow Tribe who were sent to fight with the Jambassen who would also return to the tribe with them. Currently, the mountain chief was bidding farewell to Alik and after she sent him off, they would begin the journey back to the tribe.
It didn't take long for Lorist to spot the two lovers who were embracing. The mountain chief hugged Alik so tightly as if they were meeting for the last time in their lives. After a long moment, Alik finally got on his horse and left with his attendants while the mountain chief waved her hand nonstop towards him in the distance and only ceased when he was out of her sight.
On the way back, the mountain chief suddenly called for Lorist and asked him about the construction of the 'palace' in the following year over and over again. It was not until Lorist promised that he would build a far bigger palace (canteen), than her father's that she stopped pestering Lorist.
Looks like this lass just can't wait to get married and is already looking forward to her palace even though winter just started... How impatient...
When they returned to the stockade, Lorist realized that the hunchbacked old man had occupied the house he and Reidy built. When Ashu reported that to the mountain chief, she had the old barbarian man whipped. Ashu then told Lorist that taking possession of other people's belongings without permission from the leader was a grave crime. He also said that it was a shame that Lorist was a slave. Otherwise, he could make the old man his personal slave for that transgression.
I finally have some time for myself, thought Lorist as he shut the door of his small wooden house. From that time onwards, he would be spending three months there during the winter. He wanted to use the chance when nobody would bother him to properly treat his injuries and begin restoring Reidy's memories before returning to the dominion.