The sun was beating mercilessly down on my head as I walked along the dusty path, thinking longingly of getting back to my tent and having a cool drink. The training session today had been brutal.
It was late spring, and the weather had been hot, dry and dusty for the last two weeks. The grass was turning brown and brittle.
One more week and we will be setting out for the summer pasturage. Hopefully the weather there is better, if the drought spreads that far we will be in for a bad summer
The outside world calls us nomads but it would be more accurate to say we are semi-nomadic; each of our clans has four "villages", one for each season. Each solstice we set out for the next one on our route. The villages are really nothing more than glorified camps; they have raised stone foundations for the family tents with set paths between them, a well and an amphitheater in the center, nothing more. The first week at the camp is always spent sweeping off the foundations and pulling the weeds out from between the stones, usually we even have to go so far as to clear the paths by hand. By doing things this way we prevent our herds from grazing the plains down to bare dirt anywhere within our territory.
Less than a hundred feet from the family tent, I suddenly heard a woman's scream from somewhere behind me: "Someone catch that brat! Don't let him get away again!" As I turned to see what was going on Theran almost ran me over. He had done it again, pulled a prank on the Chief's family and gotten himself (and me) in trouble once more. Grabbing his shoulder, I pulled him to a stop. "What did you do this time?" I demanded.
He tried to jerk away as he sullenly answered, "Derik and his gang were picking on me again. I tried to set up a bucket of water for him to trip over just inside the doorway, but his mom came in right after I got it in place. She stepped in it before I could get away. Now she is out for blood, if she gets her hands on me she'll give me such a strapping that I won't be sitting down for a month."
Heaving a sigh, I tried to think of something to do. He needed to be punished, but he was right, the Chief's wife would go overboard if allowed to decide his punishment, he would be useless for at least the rest of the month after she was done if given her way.
I placed my hand upon his shoulder and steered him towards my favorite thinking spot, a rock outcropping with an overhang under which we could sit out of the sun. Such places are rare here on the plains. They are, for the most part, all flat fields and gently sloping, low hills with a few trees springing up wherever there is a stream or pond. Whenever I can, I seek out such places. I feel more connected to the land in places where the very bones of the earth rise above the surface.
The fact that the Phoenix Tribe's territory is on the eastern edge of the Plains, near the Mountains of the Dawn is a joy to me. Farther west, away from the mountains, such outcroppings are unheard of.
"Alright, here is what we'll do, we will give her awhile to calm down then go back there for your punishment, by then I'll be able to talk some sense into her. She is right Theran, what you did was wrong and you must accept the consequences."
"While we are waiting for her to calm down I'll tell you a story. It is about how you came to be part of the tribe and why you are different from the other kids."
I hoped that if he understood why he was different that it wouldn't bother him so much to get picked on for it.
As we sat down beneath the rock I began to tell him the story: "It was about nine and a half years ago now, just shortly after the start of the trading season...;"
"We were on our way to Balkiri, a town that had always treated our people well. They were our primary trading partners at that time and we had many friends among them. As we approached the town we began seeing signs of a large war party headed the same way, by the looks of the tracks they were only a few hours walk ahead of us. We became concerned for our friends in Balkiri and hurried our pace, our warriors ran ahead with me at the head of the line."
"What I saw that day made me glad I am a warrior. Glad, because I was equipped and trained to exact vengeance for our friends."
"As we came within sight of the town wall we were greeted by the sight of the gate hanging half off its hinges and smoke pouring over the wall itself. The war party we had seen signs of had been coming here, killing everything within their path. "
"We rushed in to search for survivors even though we held out little hope of finding anyone alive within those walls. As we came through the gate we saw devastation on all sides. Buildings ablaze, bodies just lying in the street with gashes all over their flesh, blood everywhere that wasn't burned to charcoal, though the worst of all were the children's bodies. They had been herded into the village square and slaughtered like livestock at the butchers."
"At this time we split our forces, some of our people, including the best medics we had, stayed and began to search the rubble for anyone the raiders had missed, the rest of us went after those responsible for this madness."
"We were out for blood. No-one does anything like that to our friends and lives."
Under my breath I whispered vehemently, "No one."
"As you have probably guessed Theran, I was in charge of the ones who went after the raiders."
"We circled the town looking for clues as to which direction they had gone. We were shocked at how easy it was to find the trail; they seemed to have made no attempt to hide their tracks. Since then I have come to realize that they had hidden it fairly well. They had been too panicked by our unanticipated approach to take the care needed to hide them well enough. Though no-one from off of the plains would have even known anyone had passed that way, the tracks were almost painfully obvious to the eyes of some of the best trackers on the plains. They had thought the cursory job would slow us down enough to allow them to get to a defensible position. They were dead wrong."
"We caught up to them after about an hour, within sight of a cliff that had to have been their destination (Balkiri was in the foothills of the Mountains of the Dawn that border the Plains), had they reached it we would only have been able to approach from one side and would have been spotted in an instant. As it went however, they were concentrating so hard on reaching it they didn't notice as we began to pick them off one-by-one. Around half of them were dead before they even knew what was happening. After what they had done they deserved no mercy
.and we showed them none. We killed them to the last man and found enough on their bodies to identify them. They were a Plains clan much like us in many ways, but far more warlike. We knew where they camped that time of year and headed straight for where their camp should be."
"When we found it we began to hunt down their remaining warriors. We did not stop till there was not a single warrior left among them. At that point we marched into the center of their village and confronted the chief, we threw down the body of their Weapons Master at his feet and told him (in a loud voice so the entire clan would hear and remember); "This is the fate of any who seek to harm us or our friends, we are not the monsters you were so your people may live, but you have no warriors left. We will be watching, should you seek to train these youngsters into more of your murderers, we will be back, and if that happens, there will be no survivors." We then turned our backs on him in contempt and returned to the village."
"When we got back to the others we found out that there had been two survivors of the attack, a young woman and an infant boy, he appeared to be about six months old at the time."
"You Theran were that boy."
At this point Theran interrupted, "What about the woman?"
I replied, "Patience Theran, I was just getting to that."
"The woman was badly injured; she had apparently shielded you with her own body. According to the medic she was still conscious when they found her and had thought they were the raiders. She tried to fight them off but was too weak to do anything, when she realized this she became hysterical and passed out shortly after. She never woke up again. She died the following day."
"That, Theran, is how you came to live among us."
I looked down at the boy who had become like a son to me and smiled sadly, "Shall we go see if she has calmed down enough to be reasoned with yet? Maybe we can get her to accept you helping her out around camp in lieu of a beating."
He pouted but replied, "I suppose I don't have any say in this, do I?" He then muttered half under his breath, "We might as well get it over with..."
We got up and started walking slowly toward her tent. I was no more eager to confront her than he was, though he'd never believe that. Over the next five years Theran spent a lot of time helping her around the camp...
______________________________________________________________________ ...A few months before his sixteenth nameday...
The practice match had only been going on for a couple minutes and it was all he could do to keep from being struck. There was no way Theran was going to even hold his own for much longer, let alone win this. As I looked on I noticed something, his form was perfect, his movements silent, and he did a great job of staying in the most concealed areas. No one from outside the Plains Tribes would ever have seen him, but no matter how hard he tried, his bulk was just too great for him to remain concealed to our discerning eyes. On average the people of the Plains are slim and stand about five feet tall, Theran stands at six and a half feet, and is twice as broad across the shoulders as I am.
Finally, after the fifth time his opponent was able to locate him without difficulty he stood up and growled out, "I can't do this! My body just can't be concealed well enough!"
Upon hearing this declaration I turned to him and replied; "You may well be right. You were not born among us and your body is built differently than ours are. You may well be physically incapable of using our combat methods, but remember this Theran, the Tribe's ways are not the only ways of doing things. Our style of combat is almost never seen away from the Plains, and it may be that you will have to seek a teacher from the outside world in order to ever truly master your own body. Those born to the Plains rely on stealth and speed more than strength. However, outside of the plains where they are built more like you they rely on strength and finesse with a blade far more than stealth."
When he heard this, his look of anger and frustration turned to one of determination and hope.
As he turned away I heard him saying quietly, "I WILL
be the master of my body, I WILL
find a teacher who can teach me what I need to know, and I WILL
learn to be a warrior worthy of his respect!"
Hearing those words from him filled my heart with a jumble of emotions. Pride for his courage and determination, hope for his future, sadness to know he would be leaving us soon to begin his journey, and a man's fear of losing one who is as a son to him. But as I turned away I resolved that while he may be leaving us, he would have the best preparation that I could give him.
He may hate me for the next few months but he will be ready for anything the outside world could throw at him. A lone warrior must be prepared for anything in a way that no-one traveling with others ever has to be.
I began making a list of what he must be taught and what he would have to take with him as I walked back to the tent. Nothing may be neglected while preparing for his journey. Nothing at all...