Jake was in the middle of a conversation with the senior hunters when an alert cry went up from the sentries. He stood up and saw an excited scout running for him, and waved the man over. The scout was excited but not panicking, he noted.
"Olo'eyctan!" The na'vi hurriedly made a respectful greeting-gesture, which Jake returned.
"Report!" he ordered crisply, just as he remembered his own recon-unit captain doing. The old bastard, he thought.
"Twelve pa'li riders, approaching from the northwest! They bring an entire herd of pa'li with them! Most of the pa'li carry burdens."
Jake looked sharply at the scout. "The Horse Clan?" and received an affirmative nod. He clapped the man on the shoulder approvingly. "Tell the Tsahik, then tell the others to prepare to welcome our brothers and sisters." He had no idea of what those preparations consisted of, but the scout apparently did – he was off like a shot. The hunters broke up to prepare for their guests.
Neytiri was concerned. "Why is a troop of Horse Clan coming here? Why now? What has happened?"
Jake could only shake his head. "We'll know soon enough."
The outriders appeared quickly, accompanied by Omaticaya scouts, and the rest of the troop followed shortly after. The clan had gathered to greet the visitors, and sent up a welcoming-cry as they came into view.
They rode right into the clearing before the new Hometree and dismounted. The lead rider boomed in a great voice "Oel ngati kameie, Omaticaya brothers and sisters! I am Nasato, brother of Olo'eyctan Awkey of the Horse Clans, in whose name I greet you!"
Jake stepped forward and gave Nasato a proper warrior's greeting. "Welcome to our new Hometree, brother. The Omaticaya are honored by the presence of the warriors of the Horse Clans."
Nasato came forward and placed his open palm on Jake's shoulder in the respect-gesture of equals. "Toruk Makto, it is the Horse Clans who are honored by your welcome." He dropped his palm and swept it to indicate the herd of pa'li that his clansmen were shepherding and spoke loudly so that everyone nearby would hear. "The Omaticaya gave everything they had to preserve the Tree of Souls for all Na'vi. The Horse Clans do not let that precious gift go unanswered." He gestured to one of his clansmen, who led a coal-black direhorse forward. "Here are one hundred of the finest pa'li that have ever walked the Plains. Each one carries its own harness, and what provisions we can spare. Most of the mares are in foal, bred by many different stallions of our herds, and here," he took the surcingle of the black one, "is the greatest of the five stallions of your own new herd. He is the younger brother of Olo'eyctan Awkey's own warsteed, a personal gift from the Chief of the Horse Clans to Toruk Makto." He ceremoniously placed the surcingle in Jake's hand, symbolically gifting the entire herd.
The assembled Omaticaya cheered wildly. Jake manfully reached up and patted the bridge of the stallion's nose. It looked at him sideways, and he thought Yeah, like I'm gonna be riding YOU any time soon…
Jake held up his hand to quiet the clan down for a moment, and declared "The people of the Horse Clans are as generous as they are brave. See to the comfort of our younger brothers and sisters, and then let us give our clan-brothers a proper welcome!" More cheering erupted, and many eager hands reached to assist the horsemen in settling the animals into their new home.
Jake handed the stallion off to an eager scout as he heard Neytiri ask "How is Olo'eyctan Awkey? Is he well?"
Nasato nodded. "Tsahik Sanali says he will recover fully. She has ordered him not to ride for another two moons, to make sure the bones and muscles heal properly, but he is already walking again." He smiled at Neytiri and confessed "Even though she does not want him to."
Mo'at walked up to them then. "Our guests have ridden far and must be tired. Come, rest, let us bring you food and drink." She shepherded them to the gathering-circle, where a celebration shortly started taking place.
The rest of the day was mostly given over to admiring the new pa'li and entertaining the visitors. When night had fallen, and the younger Horse Clan members were demonstrating Plains dances for their hosts, Jake looked across the circle to glance at Mo'at meaningfully. She nodded and slipped out of the group she was in. Jake took Neytiri's hand in his, and the pair quietly left for their quarters.
Mo'at and Nasato shortly joined them, and the four of them sat. The Tsahik spoke quietly, "Tell us, Nasato, how fares the Horse Clan?"
The man sighed. "We will recover, but it will take time." He looked apologetically at Jake. "We would have brought you a herd of pa'li anyway – the Omaticaya sacrificed their Hometree and two Olo'eyctans to save the Tree of Souls, and we couldn't let you suffer because of it – but the truth is, we lost so many that we had too many orphaned pa'li to be able to care for them all. These will be cherished by the Omaticaya, and are much better off here than being exposed as prey to the predators of the Plains." The women nodded sadly. He asked in turn, "And how fare the Omaticaya?"
Jake answered quietly. "Between the fall of Old Hometree and the Great War, we've lost a quarter of the clan, and two thirds of the hunters." Nasato winced.
Neytiri continued in an equally subdued tone. "We now have two women for every man, and three children for every two adults. Many of the women are with child."
Nasato was shocked at the decimation. After a long pause, he said in a quiet voice "And now I understand Tsahik Sanali's wisdom."
"What do you mean?" Mo'at asked.
He replied, "When we assembled this herd to bring to you, we had planned on leaving ten of our pa'li handlers with you for a time, to assist you with them. Sanali insisted on choosing the handlers herself. Of the ten chosen, eight are men – and all ten are Na'vi who have been unable to find mates in the Horse Clan. I think they will not be returning to us."
Neytiri, who was sitting next to him, touched his shoulder sympathetically. "If they find mates among the Omaticaya, it is an honor to us."
Nasato nodded. Then he visibly steeled himself, and looked up at Jake. "My brother's heart has been uneasy since the Sky People were forced to leave. He says that he feels as if he stands in the center of the Plains on a sunny day – but that he Sees clouds on the distant horizon. He wants me to ask the Toruk Makto..." he looked down for a moment, and then almost whispered, "if he thinks that the Great War is truly over."
The women were shocked. All eyes went to Jake, who sighed heavily. He paused for a long moment before he replied. He'd had more than enough to deal with to get the clan on its feet again, and had hoped to put this off. Now it was squarely in his lap.
He faced everyone directly. "I don't believe that the Sky People are going to just give up and stay away. We still have something they want badly. I don't know if they'll try to deal with us honestly next time or not. I don't know if a few will come, or if they'll come in force. But my gut tells me that we haven't seen the last of them."
Nasato nodded as if Jake had confirmed his own suspicions, and asked simply "When?"
He closed his eyes in pain. "The fastest they can get a response team here would be in six years. I'm betting they'll wait on major action until the Sky People we threw out get back home so that they can get the whole story first. Then they'll have to assemble their people and send them out here. My guess would be; expect a small sortie – a scouting expedition – in six years. The main response would be in twelve, thirteen years from now."
Neytiri was aghast. "Jake, in six years we'll barely have recovered our numbers from before Old Hometree's fall. We could have two hundred additional warriors in twelve years, but…."
He finished the statement for her flatly. "But the numbers they could send in twelve years will make the group we defeated look insignificant. Two hundred additional warriors against that kind of power would be meaningless."
They all jumped when Mo'at gasped. They turned to look at her; she was staring off into space and whispered, "That's what it means!"
"What, mother? What is it? What does it mean?" Neytiri asked urgently.
The Tsahik looked at her daughter with dread, but addressed her words to the men. "Eywa maintains the balance of life. She normally sends equal numbers of males and females to perpetuate that balance. But for the past few years, she has been sending the Omaticaya three male children for every two female. I have been watching, waiting for the balance to swing back and restore itself, but it has not."
Nasato interrupted Mo'at sharply. "The Horse Clans have been the same. Sanali has been uneasy as well, but has been unable to say why."
Jake's voice was urgent. "How long as this been going on, Nasato? When did it begin? When did you first notice the increase in males?"
His mother in law answered for their guest. "The first time it occurred to me was when I attended the birth of Narali's twin sons. Eight years ago."
Neytiri was getting a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Eight years old. Add twelve years to that…."
Jake concluded grimly "Adult. A new generation of warriors." He looked at the group and concluded "Eywa is preparing the Na'vi for war."