Wherein a small group of stepperiders accompanies a pregnant woman to meet her future husband. A story about glory and battle told at the fires of the Upper Nephentans.
Ranix the Warrior, Fazuuk the Seer and Tarn'k the Hunter are given the task of bringing the pregnant woman Kiszula to meet her future husband Prince Harka from the Lower Nephentan tribe. Among the stepperiders of Mars, it is taboo to marry within ones own tribe. Kiszula managed to get herself pregnant at the last tribal gathering and insists that the child is Prince Harka's. So the princes of the Upper and Lower Nepenthans brokered an agreement for a marriage between Kiszula and Prince Harka. Fazuuk, Ranix and Tarn'k are now suppossed to take Kiszula to the Ruumet Breer Graveyard located between the tribes' territories.
Tarn'k scouts ahead on his gashant while the other three Nephentans follow on their own gashants and with the gashant carrying the dowry for Kiszula. Travelling with a pregnant Martian woman is exhausting. Her constant complaints are met with stoic silence by Ranix, chatter about the ancestors by Fazuuk, and an absent minded "Yes, Kiszula" by Tarn'k. Maybe that's why Tarn'k acts as an outrider.
Near the end of their journey to the Ruumet Breer Graveyard, Tarn'k encounters a carcass of a slain ruumet breer. From the wounds it looks like steppe tigers had slain the mighty beasts. In the distance, he spots a cave that might be the lair of the steppe tigers. He leads the group on a detour to avoid directly crossing through the steppe tiger territory.
At nightfall, they set up camp. Fazuuk proceeds to settle down Kiszula as comfortably as possible. Tarn'k builds the fire and Ranix keeps watch. Then Kiszula asks Tarn'k to come over and asks him to bed down next to her during the night, because she is cold. Tarn'k elegantly passes this task off to Fazuuk who tells Kiszula that he knows how difficult things are. Kiszula says he can't imagine what she is going through. Fazuuk tells her that the female ancestors also speak to him and thus he knows what to do. He gives her a broth of steppegras beer and herbs that settle her down - and make her somewhat delirious. She implies that Prince Harka wasn't alone with her when she got pregnant, that he didn't lead "his gashant to the watering hole" and that he isn't even interested in women. Surley, the ravings of a delirious mind and nowhere near the truth...
Later at night, during Tarn'k's watch, the young hunter suddenly hears a noise in the dark. He draws his bow, wakes Ranix, tells him to be silent and cautiously proceeds away from the fire. Indeed, they are not alone. Two steppe tigers are circling around the camp. Tarn'k shoots an arrow but narrowly misses one of them. Then the steppe tigers leap into the camp. Ranix get badly wounded, Tarn'k lets loose arrow after arrow and Fazuuk protects Kiszula and prays to the ancestors. Indeed, the ancestors are on the side of the Nepenthan warriors. Ranix manages to slay both steppetiger after Tarn'k has hit his them with arrows several times.
Afterwards, Ranix insists on moving the camp a bit; and in the morning hours, Ranix and Tarn'k start to gather trophies from the carcasses: teeths, parts of the furs and Tarn'k successfully removes one of the bone plates from a steppe tiger's skull. Fazuuk tries to get Kiszula to eat some raw steppetiger meat to make the unborn child stronger. Then the warriors and Kiszula continue their travels.
On the last day of their journey, Tarn'k finds some trails of heavily-loaded gashants and as he arrives at the Ruumet Breer Graveyard, he finds a discarded metal flask with some clear liquid that smells and tastes alcoholic. The alcohol is much stronger than any steppebeer. Probably belonging to some red nosed invader.
After a while, the entourage of the Lower Nepenthans arrives. Their gashants look as if they were wounded and their leader Tenpashan demands to married to Kiszula. Fazuuk refuses and after some huffing and puffing by Tenpashan and his warriors, he gets to the bottom of the tale: Prince Harka was apparently shot down from his gashant by some red nose warriors that he tried to attach. Instead of helping him, Tenpashan ordered a tactical retreat. With the prince dead, he'll become the next chieftain of the Lower Nepenthans. Kiszula would be his fourth wife. Fazuuk then brokers an agreement: the Lower Nepenthans will guard Kiszula while Fazuuk, Ranix and Tarn'k will verify that Prince Harka is indeed dead. Also, if Kiszula marries Tenpashan, the Upper Nepenthans will receive eight rifles. That settled, the three warriors proceed to track the red noses.
Tarn'k can easily track the trail left by the gashants of the invaders. The red noses aren't particularly careful to conceal their tracks. They feel rather secure out here in the Nepenthes-Toth Steppe. As the night falls, and Phobos and Deimos rise in the sky, Tarn'k finds their encampment behind a hill. He sneaks closer, signalling Fazuuk and Ranix not to approach. Tarn'k sees several earthmen dressed in uniforms sitting around a campfire, drinking and joking while a lone guard patrols the perimeter. Also, he sees a cage large enough to hold captives with one huddled form inside. That could be Prince Harka.
Tarn'k reports back to the other two warriors and they formulate a plan. Ranix and Fazuuk will approach the camp to trade the prisoner, while Tarn'k will sneak around to the cage ready to free the prisoners, if Ranix and Fazuuk fail.
As Ranix and Fazuuk approach openly, the red noses call their officer forth. He speaks some Koline and the trade commences. But unfortunately, Tarn'k is discovered and all hell breaks loose. Ranix is gravely wounded by the sabre of the office, but with the help of Fazuuk's ancestors and Tarn'k's arrows raining down, the three Martians prove victorious.
Tarn'k opens the cage and discovers that there are not one but two prisoners. One is a savage High Martian without wings, the other one calls himself "Hamfreyy Laawreenz", a warrior of the Princess Kwin Vyktooreea, a might warrioress chieftain from Earth. Ranix collects the rifles and ammunition of the fallen invading warriors. Also, he claims the sabre as his trophy. The High Martian confirms to Tarn'k that Prince Harka is indeed dead.
Triumphant, but with sad news they return to Kiszula. Haamfreyy and the High Martian come with them, to be taken to one of the canals after the marriage ceremony. Fazuuk marries Kiszula and Tenpashan. The warrior return with 38 rifles, steppe tiger furs, and teeths and bones from the beasts to the Upper Nepenthans to be hailed as heroes and celebrated.
Note: I keep wanting to write "... her future ex-husband". Definitely reading too much After Elton.