On the Wind (Part Three)
On the Wind (Part 3)
“You would take the word of a child?”
Amid the soft light of lanterns, the warrior’s face looked that much more intimidating. Lisha averted her eyes, turning them toward the ground. She folded her hands together, her arms resting in front of her.
“I take the word of a Windrunner Cho Sah,” Umanii replied.
“Then why is the Windrunner of the Wildmane not here to speak for them!” he asked. “Why has this young mare come?”
Lisha lifted her eyes a hair, glimpsing the expressions of the chieftain, elders, and a dozen more warriors gathered in the circle. The lodge was where they met often to discuss the affairs of the tribe and govern. Each warrior gathered led their own band. Cho Seh was their leader, answering to the chief and elders.
Lisha felt a gentle nudge at her side and looked up. Cho Seh was staring at her expectantly. She stepped forward; her stomach a ball of nerves and fighting to keep from shaking as she clasped her hands tighter.
“Because he does not believe me.” Murmurs arose among the warriors, but the elders and chieftain remained silent. None had introduced themselves except for Cho Seh.
“You ignored him?” he asked. “You defiantly ran off and chose your own path?”
“I followed my heart,” Lisha softly replied. “I know what I saw and have seen.”
He stepped closer, spear in hand, the light making his face and gray eyes intimidating to look at. “Would you stake your life on it?” he asked. “Would die for what you believe?” he turned away, toward the assembly of warriors and elders. “We have heard the Wildmane before. They came with an ill omen. We found our enemy and followed them into battle. We like so many other tribes, lost brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. Though because of numbers, we remained strong, but our neighbors have struggled these past ten years.”
“Some tribes merged, finding strength in each other. Others, like the Plainstriders, the Sky Seekers, the Proud Flame to name a few, could not survive the winter on their own. Do we again risk the word of a Wildmane who cannot obey the Windrunner appointed to advise her people?”
Lisha felt her heart sink as one by one each band leader shook their heads. The elders and chieftain, however, remained silent.
They won’t believe me. They will turn me away…
“And what of our Windspeaker? She has had no warning, no premonition of doom. Only a vision of this young mare and a fire following in her wake.”
Lisha turned to look at Umanii. Her expression was blank. Say something, please!
“The vision is clear to me,” Cho Seh said. “This young mare’s words are the fire that comes after her steps, and if we listen, it will burn us to ash.”
The elders glanced at one another, their eyes showing in the lanterns’ light that Cho Seh’s interpretation had hit home. Umanii’s expression remained unchanged. Why are you silent? You can’t let him speak for you!
“See the anger on her face,” he continued. “That is the expression of rebellious youth! She would do anything to convince you. She like her father is acting rashly, clouding her interpretation with impulse and imagination!”
Lisha recoiled, her hand stinging. Shock registering on Cho Seh’s face along with a large red welt on his left cheek. Her heard thumped loudly in her chest. It made it hard to hear anything. A stillness settled over the lodge and Lisha swallowed hard, finding a mote of courage to stand her ground.
“I am Lisha, daughter of Hotah Windrunner, daughter of the Wildmane! I am Windrunner and you will respect me as one who hears the Creator’s voice!”
Cho Seh touched his cheek. “Then speak, daughter of Hotah, for we will listen.”
“I saw a great thunderhead spreading across the horizon on a cloudless night, under a full moon. It touched the ground and sky, moving across it like a herd of buffalo. Yellow lighting struck from in all directions acting like arms pulling it along. Wherever the lighting touched, Kerdash’s Plain burned and animals died.”
“As the vision went on and I tried to understand what I was seeing, the storm became aware of me. It turned toward me and as I asked the Creator for understanding, it was already upon me. I saw dark figures within the cloud cover. Their eyes burned like coals or heated metal. One item threw an axe, and I thought I had died.”
The lodge grew silent and Lisha stepped back. Cho Seh’s face was blank and hard to read. The elders and chieftain were the same. Umanii cracked a slight smile and Lisha understood. I had to prove myself. No one could speak for me.
“Was that all, daughter of Hotah?” Cho Seh asked.
“When I awoke, in Umanii’s tent, I had awakened out of another vision. You may think it was the heat, but it was too vivid and real to dismiss.”
“Then speak and we will listen.”
“I was searching for the Thunderhoof, hoping someone would hear my warning. But there was none to be found. I traveled long, following the river, but no markers of your territory were there. Then I saw the river dry up, and underneath its waters were the bones of the Thunderhoof. Afterward, I saw the great thunderhead brewing and on the plain were shadow orcs.”
“Lisha of the Wildmane, Lisha Windrunner.” Immediately, Cho Seh backed away and the Thunderhoof chief stepped forward. His voice betrayed his years, and by the way he squinted, his vision was fading. “Step closer, young mare, so I may see your face.”
Lisha did as bidden, and he placed his hands on her cheeks, touching her nose and face. He touched her hair, gauging its length. He then closed his eyes for a moment before stepping back.
“I am Chatan, Chieftain of the Thunderhoof. You are welcome here and I will consider your words.”
Lisha bowed her head. “Thank good chief, if I have been disrespectful in your lodge, I ask for your forgiveness.”
The old chief smiled warmly. “You have proven your strong heart and will. Never apologize for that,” he replied. “Cho Seh, take your warriors and prepare. The elders and I will speak in private. I want your fastest readied in case we decide to send word to our neighbors.” Cho Seh bowed his head and motioned for the band leaders to follow. The chieftain then turned to Umanii. “Take our guest to your home and return here. We have things to discuss.”
Lisha paced back and forth, her stomach churning. Umanii hadn’t returned, but before leaving to meet with the chief and the elders, the Windspeaker had instructed her to leave the hut. Hoping for a distraction, Lisha turned her attention to her surroundings.
Shelves lined with herbs and parchment bound with leather cords sat along the hut’s perimeter. Lisha approached the shelving, reaching for a stack of bound of parchment. She found strange characters written inside it, all inscribed in blue, and noted the rough texture of the script.
The dried edges reminded Lisha of a dye from a plant that grew on Kerdash’s Plain. When squeezed, the pods bled blue, and the liquid hardened, the edges near the brush strokes became powdery and rough.
Many tribes used similar plants to create markers and warnings along their borders. Some even used it before going out to hunt.
What do these markings mean? They aren’t like anything I’ve seen from the Thunderhoof.
She closed the bound stack of parchment, replacing it back on the shelf. The rest of Umanii’s home was spartan. Aside from what she needed for providing medicinal aid to the tribe, the old mare seemed to have little care for material things.
She had a space for sleeping, with a lean to rest her arms and head against. A chest containing blankets for the winter sat close by. At the center of her home sat a firepit. Beside the firepit, a chain with an iron ball attached to it hung from the ceiling. The chain connected to a strange mechanism mounted into the hut’s roof.
Lisha grabbed the chain, her curiosity piqued, and gently pulled. The mechanism came to life and an iron ball attached to another chain came down from the ceiling, pulling the first upward. The roof opened next and Lisha smiled.
How clever. It opens to let the smoke out.
“To see such wonder in the eyes of the young, what a blessed gift.”
Lisha jumped, turning toward the doorway.
Umanii chuckled, a warm grin on her face. “Oh, child, don’t be so excitable,” she said. “I’m sure there is much you have not seen before.”
“The Thunderhoof are very different.”
Umanii nodded. “We are indeed. We have learned and adapted. It was hard at first. There were many among us who felt we were abandoning our beliefs in the beginning.”
“What happened to them?”
“We bore them no ill will, they were free to choose their own way, eventually they became the Otacha Tribe.”
“I have never heard of them.”
The old mare’s expression changed. She looked so sad. “No one has, they moved farther south, beyond Kerdash’s Plain. A rift formed between us and to keep the peace they moved on.”
“But south, beyond the plain is unknown, no one knows what’s there.”
“Their appointed Windrunner, as you call yourself, said he saw a vision of a land wild and untamed. A land far from the orcs and the ogres of the north. He said it was where they were meant to be.”
Lisha moved closer, taking the old mare’s hands in her. “Father once said, when the wind blows, sometimes we must follow. It might not tell us everything, but it shows us what we need.”
“Your father is wise,” she replied, the sadness in her eyes vanishing. “As is his daughter.”
“I don’t feel very wise, Umanii,” Lisha replied, casting her eyes toward the ground. “I just feel scared.”
She felt Umanii pulled her left hand from her grasp and place it on her cheek. “Fear is an excellent teacher, Lisha. Without it, it would make us into fools. But don’t let it deceive you.”
Lisha nodded and smiled, turning her attention to the shelves. “What are those? I saw symbols in them.”
“What? My books?” Umanii asked. “That’s right, you’ve never seen books before, have you?”
Lisha shook her head. “What are they for?”
“Two-legs, use them to record knowledge. They don’t remember things like we do.”
“So they don’t tell stories and memorize their traditions?”
Umanii shook her head. “Not like us, but having the knowledge on hand is useful. My grandmother turned the symbols and markings we use into a written form. She created this written language and began teaching it to our family and the tribe.”
“Do you still recount the oral traditions?” Lisha asked.
“We do, but I record everything. I find the older I get, the harder it becomes to remember.”
“But Umanii you not that old… are you?”
“Child please, your words are kind, but I will be one hundred winters by the first snowfall.”
Lisha fought to hide her surprise. Umanii didn’t look her age.
“Now don’t you start talking like Cho Seh, or ill show you just how good my aim with a spear is,” she grinned.
Lisha giggled. “The look on your face says enough.”
Umanii laughed, then abruptly embraced her. “I want to thank you,” she said.
Lisha narrowed her eyes, embracing her back, but feeling slightly confused. “For what?”
“For saving my people,” she replied.
“I only did what I felt was right.”
“And that, Lisha, is why I am thanking you.”
Something didn’t feel right. The tone in her voice had changed. There was an air of acceptance about it. Umanii pulled away and plodded over to one of the bookshelves. She pulled one of her ‘books’ from it, thumbing her fingers through it.
“I never had a daughter or a granddaughter,” she mused. “I guess I was too much of a stubborn old mare to find a proper mate. But seeing you leaves me with no regrets.”
“Umanii… what’s wrong?”
The old mare smiled and opened her mouth to speak, when the blare of a horn blew. Her expression hardened, and she bolted from the hut, the hide curtain covering the doorway nearly tearing off from the pole it hung on.
Lisha followed, her mouth falling open at the sight of the dozen warriors who had returned. They were wounded, some had crossbow bolts embedded in their flanks. Others had cuts across their arms where their armor left them unprotected. Cho Seh stood with them as they panted, their powerful legs shaking from exhaustion.
“Berisan… Orcs,” their pack leader wheezed. “Ghanis… tribe. Slaughtered.”
Cho Seh’s face went pale. “All of them?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “We saw fires everywhere and heard screams. Some may have been captured. Foals maybe?”
“How many Sed Hai?” Cho Seh asked. “How many shadow orcs?”
“Fifty at least,” he said. “I have never seen so many.”
Murmurs arose from those present, and Umanii turned toward Lisha. “Young mare, I hope you are prepared.”
Lisha felt a chill rush through her. “Prepared for what, Umanii.”
“War, Lisha,” she said. “The centaur tribes are going to war.”