On the Wind (Part Four)
Many had gathered, far more than she could have imagined. Lisha looked at them, her eyes unable to soak in the sea of banners outside the Thunderhooves home. Each sat planted at the centers of the gathering Tribes’ encampments. Among stood hers.
There are so many…
The Thunderhoof, alongside the Sky Dancers, Ironhooves and a dozen others, sent messengers continually. And like wildfire, word had spread. After the first twenty tribes had shown, Lisha lost count, but mood on the air was charged with anger.
The elders and chiefs of each tribe began gathering gathered beyond the Thunderhooves fields. To accommodate so many, band leaders were appointed, and councils formed. Scheduled meetings came next, but all agreed the Thunderhoof should lead. The talks had gone on for hours and new reports were coming in.
“Lisha,” Amanii whispered. “It’s time.”
Lisha turned, noting the sadness in the old mare’s eyes. She still wouldn’t speak of what it was. It was like she was mourning. Did you have another vision?
“Is he with them?”
“He is,” she replied. “He’s furiously petitioning to have to cast out and branded an outcast.”
“But why? Doesn’t he see what’s happening?”
The old mare’s eyes seemed heavy. “I don’t think Shoshen cares.”
Lisha stopped, casting her eyes toward the fields and the gathering on the other side of them. “I don’t understand. Our people are dying… Is being a Windspea… a Windrunner that important?”
Amanii reached out, taking her hand. “Sometimes, there are those who covet as a thing so much, that when its achieved, they will do anything to keep it.”
They walked a bit further through the camp before Amanii stopped at a weapons rack filled with spears. It was one of many set up in case of an attack. She took one, using it like a staff, and continued leading the way.
“Are you feel well?”
The old mare smiled. “Just these old bones, child,” she replied. “There has been much to do these past few days. I feel time is short.”
Lisha nodded. “I feel it too. Have the others Windrunners spoke with you?”
“We have met regularly. Each has shared their visions, and those who use magic have confirmed them.”
“Magic? I only thought that was of the two-legs.”
“Oh, Lisha, there is much you still don’t know.”
Lisha thought about the bound stacks of parchment in the old mare’s home and the symbols that filled them. “Do you use magic?”
“Not as often as in my younger days. It drains me, but I can still do a few incants effortlessly.”
Lisha glanced behind her. The Thunderhoof settlement seemed smaller now that they had reached the top of the hill. She turned to the fields. Forty tents sat beyond, each larger than homes in the settlement.
“Lisha, be brave. Our father is waiting,” Amanii said. “They will challenge you and some may strike you. But as you stood before us, stand before them. You are Windrunner. You are grown now. The child you were died days ago. Stand as a mare of authority.”
Lisha touched her chest, feeling her heartbeat. Its pace quickened with each step until she thought it might explode standing before the doors leading inside the main tent.
“Lisha,” Amanii said, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “From here on, I cannot speak.”
Lisha swallowed, then nodded. “The time for arguments is over.”
It was like before. They stood with patient expectation. Seven tribes had gathered for this meeting, hers among them. Tenkera, chieftain of the Pale Walkers, was speaking. He looked strong, carrying a commanding aura about him.
“There is no word,” he said. “The shadow orcs remain undiscovered. Yet, the devastation to the smaller tribes is apparent.”
“Calm your tone, Tenkera,” another chieftain spoke up. His name was Laka. “The scouts are doing all they can, we will find the orcs and we will kill them!”
“How long Laka? How many more of our brothers and sisters must suffer?” he shouted. “We have the vision, we know they are many.”
“You have the vision of a rebellious child. A reckless young mare who disrespects her elders.”
Lisha cringed. The speaker’s voice was all too familiar.
Shoshen stepped forward, out of the shadows cast by the tent’s dim lighting. “We have the report of the first messengers, and we know their numbers. It has been days, perhaps their raid has ended?” he said. “We cannot act rashly.”
“Then what do you suggest, Windrunner? One of your own has brought this to our attention!” Tenkera replied.
“Indeed, she has,” he said.
Lisha could hear it. The resentment in his voice. Shoshen was angry, but there was something else. The feeling of immersed overtook her, but this time it was different. The watery sensation flowing over her became heated, then changed suddenly. It was like the touch of a sweltering summer wind, the kind that left you thirsting.
What did you do, Shoshen?
“My petitions are known. Lisha lacks experience and proper teaching. Her warning, while showing a serious threat, may have misinterpreted,” he said. “The scale could very well be overplayed. We should deal with these orcs, but we must be cautious. If we raise an alarm and the threat turns out smaller than anticipated, what then?”
“The credibility of those who sent word would come into question. And when a genuine threat, like that of ten years shows appears, who would answer the call?”
Murmurs arose as the assembled tribes spoke among themselves. Lisha looked to her father, the elders, and her grandfather. Her father kept his eyes downcast, but her grandfather’s expression was stoic. The elders and warriors with him had given Shoshen their full attention.
She shifted her gaze to Chatan, the Thunderhoof chieftain. Like before, he, the elders, and the warriors gather around him, gave nothing away. But something about them felt expectant, as if waiting.
“Shoshen is correct,” Laka said. “The losses of the smaller tribes are tragic and worthy of our anger, but we cannot allow that anger to cloud our judgement. This could be a large band or an army, we don’t know. We will kill them all the same, but we cannot cry wolf over every attack.”
Lisha could feel a shift in the mood around her. Shoshen seemed pleased with himself. “Wise words, Chief Laka,” he said. “As I have said before, Lisha should not have run off on her own. For that I ask those gathered to forgive the zealous actions of one so young. Especially our hosts, the Thunderhoof.”
“The young mare has not troubled us,” Chatan replied. “We are grateful that she, in her love for all tribes and her people, has come to us. We do not see it as an affront.”
Still, Chatan showed no emotion. His voice was firm and even. Shoshen, however, appeared irritated.
“Why?” Lisha whispered softly. “Why are you being like this?”
Silence settled over the tent. Her heart froze after realizing she had spoken aloud.
“If you wish to say something, then speak!” Shoshen said. “Otherwise, remain silent. You have done enough.”
All eyes were on her, including her father’s and grandfather’s. Her heart pounded and when she turned to Amanii, Lisha found no comfort. Strangely, the spear the old mare carried for support was gone.
“Your silence speaks for you, Lisha,” Shoshen commented. “Now leave this tent so we may sort this out properly. You are not a Windrunner. You never were.”
It was like an arrow to the heart. His disdain was so apparent. The acrid summer wind she felt earlier returned as a gale. Its heat shifted, filling her, then turning toward Shoshen.
He doesn’t love My people.
Lisha gasped against his stifling touch and because of the blood she saw dripping from Shoshen’s hands and mouth. The tent faded, lost in a torrent of fire. Only she and Shoshen remained within it, surrounded on every side.
From the flames came the shadow orcs from her vision. They stood behind Shoshen, but in their eyes, the orcs held no malice toward him. He pointed at her and the orcs advanced, axes ready.
“… are you deaf!” she heard him shout. “Know your place and leave this tent!”
His words were more like an echo, resonating from somewhere in the flames. The orcs were closer, but Lisha held her ground. The fire parted, and she saw a landscape littered with rough rocky terrain and cliffs. A full moon shone over them and drums echoed loudly around the cliffs.
Lisha felt a firm hand grip her arm, and she blinked, finding herself back in the tent, surrounded by the chiefs and elders. Shoshen seemed nervous. No, that wasn’t it. As she gazed into his eyes, Lisha saw only fear.
“Murderer,” she whispered.
It was so clear. Amanii’s words rang true. Shoshen was willing to do anything to remain Windrunner, and he had.
“What are you talking about?” he said.
“I saw you… You were leading the orcs, you pointed at me. Told them to kill me…”
“This is what I mean, the child spouts nonsense and misinterprets her visions!”
“I saw a place. It was rough and uneven. There were cliffs and rocks poking from the earth. From the cliffs I heard drums, like those that beat for war. It was at night and the moon was full.”
His composure broke. His eyes showing his rage. Shoshen knew he’d been caught, and among the tribes gathered, there was no escape.
“Lies!” he shouted. “This child is full of…”
Lisha’s heart thrummed. The moment she blinked, Shoshen was clutching a spear in his gut. She caught a breath, staring at Amanii. The old mare had run him through.
“I…” he stammered, then collapsed onto the ground, blood pooling from his wound.
“We have born witness,” she said. “We have seen the face of the young mare as the vision took her. Who here doubts her word as Windrunner?”
None spoke. Some still stood stunned by what they witnessed. Amanii’s expression was stern. It was the face of a mare who knew battle.
“Speak your objections plainly,” she commanded. “Or never speak of them again!”
Lisha turned to her father, then grandfather. Her father’s eyes shone with pride. They were the eyes of someone redeemed. Her grandfather, though stoic in expression, stepped forward.
“This shame, this horror, is beyond words,” he said. “We of the Wildmane, acknowledge her as Windrunner. We also beg for mercy, despite our foolishness.”
One by one, the other chiefs stepped forward. Lisha fought to keep a steady breath as each acknowledged her. She turned to Shoshen. The blank stare on his face and his cold, empty eyes gave her chills.
She looked up. It was Laka who spoke. “This place you spoke of. My people know it,” he said. “We call it the Elder’s Bones. Legends say the rocks and cliffs took shape from the corpse of a mighty dragon.”
“How far is it from here?”
“Three days,” he answered. “If the shadow orcs are dug in there, then it will be a bloody fight.”
“Then we had best prepare,” Chatan spoke up. “Spread word to the tribes,” he said. “We have our destination.”