On the Wind (Part Two)
Lisha shook her head, fighting to stay awake. Fatigue was setting in and her legs ached. The early morning hours seemed endless, but when dawn broke, she felt a spark of hope mingled with guilt.
Lisha thought of her father. It felt wrong to leave him when he needed her, but the sense of urgency wouldn’t subside. Something was coming and it would be wrong not to anything.
She scanned the plain and the river. There was still no sign of the Thunderhooves or their territorial markers. Father said they lived near the river…
The Thunderhooves were her tribe’s closest neighbors. As a tribe they were the largest, with over a hundred warriors. Because of their numbers, they had settled near the river a very long time ago and learned to live off the land. The crops they grew prepared them for the winter and used them to trade for buffalo hide to keep warm. The transition from being nomadic to a settled community, made them a hub for travelers and other tribes to trade with.
It also made them great mediators. They often settled tribal disputes, acting as judges for both parties. Their ability to help others find a peaceful solution earned Thunderhooves a great deal of respect on the plain.
Lisha shielded her eyes, lifting them to the sun as it glared down on her. It was almost midday. She planted her spear, took her waterskin, and uncorking it, drank from it.
Just a little further, Lisha. You can do this. A gentle breeze blew, cooling her, and she pressed on. After a while, she shielded her eyes again and checked the sun. Two rotations and still no sign or marker that she had reached their lands.
I don’t understand…
With her legs aching and fatigue growing, Lisha drew closer to the river, skirting its banks. The cool water felt good as it covered her hooves and touched her ankles. Eventually she laid her spear and effects on the bank, pulling a cloth she had from the satchel she had brought.
Drawing deeper into the water, Lisha went as far as her waist and wet the cloth, wiping herself down with it. The water’s cool touch helped against the heat, but everything within her screamed for rest.
Leaving the river, she carefully laid on the bank. She blinked, trying to keep her eyes open when the smell of something burning touched her nose. Lisha lifted her head, eyes wide as she watched the river recede and dried up. Kerdash’s Plain was burning, and in the riverbed lay a vast collection of centaur bones.
She screamed, using her spear for leverage as she scrambled onto her hooves. The fire was spreading and in front of it stood large hulking creatures. Wherever they set foot, the plain ignited.
In appearance they were about six feet, some were a little larger. Their skin was black, like soot and their eyes burned like the flames behind them. Their tusks were large and pronounced, curving up from their lower jaw.
The orcs wore metal armor. It covered their chests and legs. In their hands they wielded either an axe or a sword. Thunder clapped, and the sky turned black. Clouds were gathering overhead.
Yellow lighting rained down around her from the clouds as a dozen orcs turned toward her. Each sneered, revealing their sharp canines. They moved impossibly fast and were on her in a moment.
Warn them Lisha! Wake up!
Lisha gasped, trying to catch her breath.
“Oh, you poor thing,” a soft, wizened voice said.
Lisha darted her eyes, trying to discern where she was. “Where… am I?”
“Easy now, young mare, you are safe.”
Lisha turned to the older mare. Her hair was the darkest shade of gray, and the lines on her face showed she was very old. “I need to find the Thunderhooves, I need to warn them!”
“Warn them of what?” the old mare asked.
“Shadow orcs! I saw them in my vision!”
She tried to stand, but a wave of nausea overtook her.
“Careful,” the old mare said. “We found you passed out by the river. What is your name?”
“Lisha of the Wildmane, daughter of Hotah.”
“So you’re Hotah’s child,” she said. Her tone was strange. She seemed neither surprised nor wary. Her gray eyes gave nothing away either. Strange as it was, Lisha could help but feel the old mare expected her.
“I am Imanii of the Thunderhoof. Like you, I am a Windrunner, though in my tribe we call ourselves Windspeakers.”
“Why do you not sound surprised to see me?”
“Because I saw a young mare running across Kerdash’s Plain and behind her a great flame followed. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but now I do.”
“So you believe me?”
Imanii nodded. “I do child and sad to say we are overdo for such an attack. The shadow orcs see us as beasts of burden, some tribes of the Stepps eat us.”
“Then we need to act! We need to warn the other tribes!” Lisha fought to stand, and though her expression showed she was reluctant, Imanii helped her up.
“You are certainly Hotah’s daughter,” she said with a smile. “Stubborn and determined.”
Lisha steadied herself on the support pole of the tent. “The urgency I feel says it will happen soon.”
“We will speak with the elders, but first you must rest,” Imanii replied. “You’re still weak from the heat.”
“I can rest when I know everyone is safe.”
Imanii smiled. “So much like your father,” she said.
The Thunderhoof settlement was more like a village than what she was used to seeing. Some still lived in traditional tents, but the tents larger than the ones from her tribe. They weren’t meant to be taken down. Wings were added, creating separate ‘rooms’ or chambers and each decorated to signify which family lived in them.
The rest of the tribe lived in large domed structures made of straw and wood. They used mud from the river and mixed it with straw to make brick as a foundation for their homes and walls. Lisha paused, taking it in.
“This your first time here, isn’t it?”
“We do well,” Imanii said. “The traders who pass through from the west and our neighbors ensure we have what we need. On rare occasions we see a few Shaylin from Daeshal.”
“Do you see many humans?”
Imanii shook her head. “Not unless they were with the Shaylin.”
Her tone suggested there was more to it, like she felt pity for the humans. Lisha opened her mouth her ask, but stopped herself. Umanii gave her a curious look.
“Just a passing thought,” she said. “It’s not worth mentioning.”
Lisha turned her attention to the tribe itself. The young foals were playing, running about and laughing. Some were kicking a ball around with their hooves as their parents looked on.
“We sent the hunters out early this morning. Buffalo should be migrating, and if we are lucky, we might find a herd of auradons.”
“Aren’t they dangerous?”
“We usually only go for a calf,” Imanii explained. “But you’re right, it’s risky, but nothing goes to waste. The hardened shell of an auradon, its meat, bones, and even hide is very useful.”
“I’ve seen the armor fashioned from those shells in our tribe,” Lisha commented.
“Yes, your people likely traded for them,” Umanii replied.
They moved to the outskirts of the village, past the stone dividing wall surrounding it. Lisha’s mouth fell open when she saw the size of the fields. Dozens of Thunderhooves were tending it. Some harvesting while others collected. A channel was dug from the river, diverting water to a gigantic pool.
“How do you get the water from the pool to the fields?”
“We use ‘pumps’,” the old mare replied. “You see those this metal shafts?”
Lisha followed where she was pointing. There was a large shaft of metal with a curved handle. At its base was larger cylinder. Connected to its base was a long shaft, running along the ground and down the tiny hill to the pool itself. Similar metal shafts scaled up the hill as varied angles toward the fields.
“While I don’t understand everything, we draw the water up the tubes with the levers on top of the pumps. Water flows from there into channels we've dug along the length of the field. Once those fill, we pull a panel and the water is distributed to the crops.”
“How did you come up with this?” Lisha asked.
“Many years ago, long before I was born. Shaylin traders came through. We were struggling to water the crops efficiently. The Shaylin shared their knowledge with us. At first, we were suspicious, wondering what it would cost.”
“Did they demand anything in return?”
“Seeds, though they never said why,” she answered. “Still, I feel as if we gained a great deal from the trade.”
Lisha scaled the hill with Umanii following behind. It was such a unique way of life. Not having to move around, or retreat from the cold when it came. Part of it felt wrong, but as she watched the centaur of the Thunderhooves working together. The feeling passed.
“I understand how strange it seems, but I have learned over the decades that the Creator often shows us something new or different for our betterment. We may not see the intention, but there is good in it. We need only wait and listen to understand.”
“Without change, we can never move forward.”
The old mare smiled warmly. “You’ve been listening to your father,” she said.
“Since my mother passed, he had devoted everything to teaching me all he knows.”
“It seems time had tempered him with wisdom,” Umanii commented.
Lisha bit her lip, turning her face to the horizon. Dusk was approaching. “With sorrow also,” she said.
Lisha felt Umanii’s gentle touch on her shoulder. “Come, young mare. The warriors will return soon, and the evening feast will begin. You have no offering, but I will speak on your behalf so they will hear you.”
Excitement hung in the air around the great bonfire the tribe had built. The hunters had brough back four bulls and an auradon calf. Despite their injuries, the tribe honored them for their bravery.
They donned ceremonial masks as the warriors told their tale of the fight against the buffalo and the auradon herd. As they recanted, tribesmen who wore the masks pretended to be the buffalo running about and acting as if trying to gore the warriors. When the tale of the auradon herd arose, a large costume, made of an auradon’s backplates, was worn. Its bony club like tail thrashing about as it fought to defend the effigy of its calf.
The Thunderhooves sang, danced, and offered prayers of thanks. Watching the festivities, Lisha found herself enraptured by it all. It was nothing like home. It only deepened her understanding of what it meant to be an outcast from the tribe.
“Why are you crying?” Umanii asked.
“Because I’ve never seen such unity before.”
The old mare’s mouth fell open. “You are a Windrunner, it is your duty to be part of this.”
“I am a Windrunner, but until now, my understanding of what that meant was lacking.”
Umanii’s expression hardened, but Lisha saw the old mare’s anger wasn’t directed toward her. “The Wildmane have fallen far,” she said coldly.
“Who is your Windrunner?” she asked.
“Shoshen, son of Aeti,” Lisha replied.
Her lip tightened, the lines on her face showing how angry she was. “Come with me,” she said.
Her tone was obvious. It wasn’t a request, and Lisha followed her at a quicken pace.
Umanii took her to the outskirts of the tribe, away from the fires and festivities. She looked at the sky, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes.
“Tell me what you see?” she asked.
“I see the stars, too numerous to count, they like the blades of grass spread across Kerdash’s Plain.”
“Is that the only thing?” she asked. “Is there more?”
As of breeze blew between them, and Lisha paused. Looking back at the night sky, she closed her eyes and spread her arms. She could sense Umanii beside her and felt her place her hands on her shoulders.
“Listen, young mare,” she said. “Alone, the stars seem like nothing, but collectively, they represent something precious.”
Lisha stood patiently, straining to hear. Silence followed, and she bit her lip. “Forgive me, Umanii, but I don’t hear anything.”
Umanii gently squeezed her shoulder. “You have heard the wind. You know it is the Creator’s voice. You have walked on the land, but did you know it is His body? You have stared at His sky, but did you know that it is his face and the sun his eye looking down upon you?”
“Did you know the moons are His eyes, the dim light shining in them are because he sleeps and the stars, His plans and dreams?”
Lisha opens her eyes, turning to Umanii. “Are these things true?” she asked.
“We live in a world many barely understand, us included,” she replied. “But I believe them true. On rare nights when both moons are out, shining full, and the gentle breeze envelopes me, I can hear more than a whisper,” she replied. “Its feeling indescribable, but it makes me hope.”
“Hope for what?”
“A future where our world isn’t so dark and troubled.”
“Why do you tell me this?” Lisha asked. “How does it relate to Shoshen?”
“In time you will understand, young mare,” she replied. “But know, it is not just the wind that speaks. All things are connected, but we may not see how in the beginning, but if we listen,” she added, looking up at the sky and closing her eyes, “we might even see what He dreams.”