He was seven and fifty-twelvemonths of age and, in Chuos opinion at least, looked good for his age, without a single bit of greying hair. Had Chuo met him before? Of course, he had! Ping was well known for visiting the clans of military personnel. The Commander had even been present for Chuos birth. Upon seeing Chuo, Pings eyes widened. ”Chuo, wherefore are you here? Where is your father? Your brother? Your sisters? Are they all dead? ”

”My brother alone lives no more, Commander. ” Answered Chuo solemnly. ”My father was wounded in the attack that killed my brother and my sisters are even now seeking to avenge him, though it seems the one responsible is here rather than with his clan. ”

Ping looked over to Huang, smiling arrogantly with a cruel look in his good eye. ”You killed him? ”

”That I did, Commander. ” Answered Huang as he crossed his arms. ”But I can assure you, his hurts were on his front. ”

Sighing, Ping uttered: ”Despite what you have done, we will keep you here. We need every able-bodied Xianbei for the campaign against the Rouran. What you have done can wait for after. ” Looking to Chuo, he then said: ”Come into my tent. ” Turning his gaze to the others, he uttered: ”And the rest of you, behave yourselves! I will not be having any of the Khans host at each others throats! ” Chuo did as he was instructed and saw that Ping had several other officials within. Growing nervous, he looked at them all and they stared back with critical eyes. ”My fellow officials of the Khans Host, this is General Tuyuhuns youngest child Chuo. It would seem our old comrade will not be joining us. He is wounded, his elder son is dead and his daughters are off avenging their brothers death, not knowing his killer is here in our camp. ”

”This Chuo is the same one that had been born sickly and before his time? ” asked a woman.

”The same, Lieutenant Hege. ” Replied Ping.

”The one that is considered inferior to his siblings? ” inquired a man.

”The same, Lieutenant Chili. ” Answered Ping. Taking a seat, he looked Chuo in the eye and said: ”Chuo, your cousin Fu is quite enough. The Tuyuhun clan has someone representing them, are you certain you wish to be here? ”

”My father can only allow four people to serve and I am here to prove myself equal to my siblings, sir. ” Stated Chuo.

”An admirable reason to serve. ” Commented Lieutenant Hege as she stroked her chin. ”But surely, you know these are the Rouran we are fighting, the very same who have been raiding our northern borders since our khanate was founded. ”

”I know, maam. ” Replied Chuo.

”It is said Wuti Khan had the chieftains who would not lead their clans in raiding boiled alive. ” Stated Chili. ”That is the leader of our enemy. Does that not frighten you? ”

”Not as much as living my life in the shadows of my siblings, sir. ” Chuo answered. For a while all of the officials sat there, staring at him in silence. Chuo could only wonder what they were thinking for he could not read their faces. All of them so stoic, their countenances like those of statues. With how still they all were, they might as well have been statues. Swallowing nervously, Chuo inquired: ”You were hoping for my parents or one of my siblings, were you not? ”

”We were. ” Stated Ping, his countenance taking on a concerned expression. ”Chuo, I respect your desire to prove yourself the equal of your siblings, but that desire could cause your death. ”

”You will get yourself and others killed. ” Uttered Lieutenant Hege, turning her gaze from Chuo. ”I cannot imagine why this has happened. We need the General and his wife or one of their elder children not this… pup! Yes, pup! We need wolves! Not a pup! ”

Standing to his feet, Lieutenant Chili stroked his prematurely grey beard and stared at his fellow officials. ”You can be concerned all you wish, Commander Ping, and you may call him a pup, Lieutenant Hege, but I feel that he must be allowed to prove himself. Besides, the strength of the wolf is the pack— ”

”And the strength of the pack is the wolf, Lieutenant Chili! ” returned Lieutenant Hege. ”One weak wolf could be a detriment to the pack! This boy who was born sickly and before his time could be a detriment to the host! ”

”The host is many. I doubt he will be that much of a detriment. ”

”But he will be a detriment to the cavalry squadron he is assigned to! He must be sent back for the good of himself and that of others! ”

”Enough! ” exclaimed Ping, bringing a fist down. ”Chuo, you are dismissed for now. When we have decided whether or not you shall stay, you will be sent for. ”

Bowing his head, Chuo exited the tent. Looking back and forth, he saw that none of his companions were in sight, nor was Huang. There was not even any sight of Mulan. He could see no one who he knew, even if just barely. He was alone with nothing to do but wander the camp.

And wander the camp he did, not knowing what was to become of him. Was he going to be sent to the camp that he called home or was he going to stay to fight for Buri Khan? Alas, he knew not.

Ever since the reign of Liwei Khan a member of the Tuyuhun clan had served in the campaigns of the Tuoba clan. True, there would be a Tuyuhun serving in the host, but Chuo wanted to be fighting the Rouran as well! All his life he had heard of the adventures his parents, grandparents and ancestors had serving in the campaigns of the Tuoba clan, hearing how they were equal part glory and equal part glory and he had dreamed of knowing both the glory and the horror ever since he had been small, if only just once. As he got older and found himself the inferior of his elder siblings rather than their equal, his reasoning of wanting to serve his khan changed and now it seemed he might not even be able to do that.

Throwing his arms around the neck of a nearby camel, Chuo let out a sigh. What was he to do then? His parents always kept him at arms length so what would his life be? Being a guard back at the camp he called home? After his days serving in the Khans host, his grandfather had become a shaman. Perhaps if he were not to be a guard of the camp, then perhaps he could be a shaman, or a storyteller.

Letting go of the camel, General Tuyuhuns surviving son looked the beast in the eye and wondered what secrets the creature had. Were they secrets that would be able to help him find his path in life if he were sent back home? If only he knew.

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