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Elior was on my mind. Three years ago he'd made the ride to the loch where he had met his final resting place. What was awaiting me?


Father and I rode out of Huntloch village beneath a cloak of night, riddled with a sea of stars. We said our goodbyes to Yrdrid and Lylef, met with much worry, sadness, and bitter enthusiasm. Not the same enthused energy on the day Elior left to become a man.

I slid my hand down until my palm met the hard hilt of antler. I wrapped my fingers around it. For a moment I wanted to remove the blade from its sheath. It was going to be Elior's gift. The one I gave him after his manhood hunt. I'd spent many hours chipping the stone to its sharpened point. But all I wanted to do was cast it into the loch and forget about it.

"I'll finally give you a proper burial ..."

The trail was dense, windy, and hilly. A hard path for most flatland horses, even a hard ride on the High Riders' father and I were mounted upon. Karqibhan was the lead horse. My father's horse. And a horse who knew its rider like his rider knew his horse. He strode valiantly. Aware that it was a chief whom mounted him and not some tribal warrior. He knew the path that'd he'd walked a hundred times over. He knew where and when to stop. Wise, a horse as there ever was, though his years showed in the gray in his mane. My mount, Haridel, was as sure-stepped as the lead horse he followed. Though his young, wandering mind often caused him to yank in odd directions, causing me to fight him back onto the trail.

"Right! I said right, yah dumb beast!" I yanked the reins right and drove my heel into his left side. Haridel shook his head and neighed. "I think he's broken."

Father guffawed. "I have given you the horse ... but I have not trained him. If you are to ride as one, you must learn to trust each other. And you can only build that trust if it is you whom does the training."

"Why couldn't I have taken Mokrah. Mule's been with me since I was a boy. Had no problems with him."

"Mokrah is for a boy, not a man." Father replied in a chiefly tone. "It is a long ride there and back. By the time we get home, you two will have broken the first wall between you. That'll be the foundation of your trust. You can build upon that."

"Seems to me Haridel doesn't enjoy building ... he prefers destroying." I chuckled. My father's voice rumbled above my own. "How did Elior do on his ride?"

Father grew silent for a time. Nothing could quiet the chief like the name of his firstborn. He took a breath. "Elior had a connection with animals, even over people." He shook his head then looked at me. "Your brother never wanted to be Chief."

My tongue felt heavy. "What do you mean?"

"He told me he didn't want to stay in the tribe. That he wanted to start a new tribe."

"Why?"

Father pat Karqibhan's neck. "He was in love." Wind slipped between his words and father drew a mouthful. "I forbid it ... and he was upset at me on the day of his manhood hunt ... then it happened, he fell through the ice." Enoch looked off into the trees. "You were meant to be Chief. You have the heart for our people."

Father said no more, kicking his horse into a quickened trot. I kept to my silence, though the ache to learn more stayed in my gut until we reached Midcamp.

It was a clearing in the trees. A beaten field that sat beneath the stars, riddled with the reminisce of charred wood and fond memories that I'd never forget. I had been to Midcamp many times. We stayed there before going out on the hunt. And using it to skin and pluck feathers of the animals we'd bring back.

We dismounted for a time, to give the horses rest, and quench their frothing mouths. Father and I shared a slab of dried, spiced meat, making both our tongues salivate and dance to the flavor.

Father found the stars above. "You know why I take time for both the Elders and the Brutes?" I raised an eyebrow, feeling a guess form upon my tongue. But I stayed quiet and listened. "Because if you don't have the respect of both the wise and the powerful, then one is likely to betray you."

I rubbed my chin, "And is that why you make time for the Lords of the other clans?"

Enoch's bushy beard and hair shook like a tree in the wind. "Indeed. They are our allies, yes. But that doesn't mean they are our friends." He knelt to one knee, placing a hand on my shoulder, allowing our eyes to greet. "I will not be here forever, My Boy, you know this. I can be taken as queerly and quickly as Elior. You must be prepared and ready for what awaits you."

I screwed up my face, "why are you saying this, Father? You have many years ahead of you."

"I didn't make time for you," He shook, peering downward. "Only three years I prepared you for manhood. I spent all my time with your brother assuming he would be Chief one day, and yet, the God's deemed him unworthy. Forgive me, Eroh. You will be my heir, and I have not given you the proper time nor guidance."

"There's nothing to forgive, Father." I wanted to hug the doubt from him, but father was too proud for such things. Instead, I spoke with words of solace and endearment. "You are strong and have many winters ahead of you. I shall not be Chief for many years, and by that day I will be ready. And if something as tragic were to happen to you as what befell on Eilor: I have my mother's guidance, the insight of the elders, and the discipline and strength of the brutes. If unready under your eyes, I'd grow into the Chief with their counsel." I said with conviction, yet felt uncertainty within my heart. I didn't let that show.

Father stopped and turned his chin over his shoulder. Even behind the bush, I could see the sadness and doubt on his face. "Yes, my Boy, but will you be weary of their counsel, and stand firm on that which you disagree upon?" Enoch asked, gazing upon the full moon. "The Chief has many responsibilities, one's that no man can handle alone, that is why we must listen to our advisors, but more often ourselves." He pointed to the rounded light in the sky. And with a finger, outlined the ring of stars around it, and the four bright stars resting north, south, east, and west.

"Can you tell me what this means?"

I thought it looked like a target, but shook my head, to my father's dismay.

"The four large stars on the outside represent the four Horn tribes of the Horftz clans; we are the fifth, and most powerful, as you know. The ten stars that ring the moon represent the counsel. Can you tell me what the moon represents?"

"The Chief?" I answered proudly.

Father didn't agree nor disagree. He rather prodded the moon with a thick digit. "This one represents you ... and as Chief you're snared between many forces; each one with their own purposes. And like any snare, it can snap when the right amount of pressure is applied."

I paled. "And our job is to keep it from snapping?"

"Precisely. But that, my boy, is where the weight lays heaviest on our shoulders." Father guffawed softly. "Give me a damn war to fight, or hunt to be had, and I can do that without thought. But throw me in with the real wolves - these - tribal minds ... That's when I feel at a loss." Flakes fell from his beard as he scratched and pondered, staring blankly, mumbling beneath his breath. "And one day you'll be the one to listen, searching for the treachery and the fidelity in each of their words."

"And how do you do it, Father?"

Father sat as frozen as winter. "Prayer. Each morning I pray to the Horn God's to give me guidance - I speak to them throughout the day - and by nightfall, I thank them for the provisions and the peace that'd been given."

My prayers were many, but my answers were few. Maybe as Chief that would change?

"If there is one thing I can instill in you, my boy, it is the importance of prayer." Father set his hand down on Eroh's head, but not his weight, patting him gently, near tenderly, in strokes that the boy never knew his father possessed. "They may not answer all of your prayers, but they'll answer the one's that matter, and the ones that'll serve their purpose." He paused, allowing his wisdom to spark in his eyes. "Pray to the Horn God Morkidu when you need strength and discipline before your people and your foes; pray to Roopyeus when you need courage and confidence before your battles; pray to Darkku when you must cast death and destruction upon your enemies; pray to Horlikk when you must bring your Chiefly justice down upon those who disobey your laws; and pray to the Horn God, Kastyur, for wisdom and foresight; to resolve your boundless queries and prepare you for those to come. Pray these prayers, and ask in abundance, and I promise you the Horn Gods will listen and they will answer."

I nodded as a young horn should. "I will do as you ask of me, Father. That I promise you."

"I know," Enoch replied, nodding. "Now prepare your bow. The Loch is just across the hills. It is time you've shed your pelt of boyhood, to grow into your coat of manhood."

They again mounted their horses, then followed the bright northern star towards the loch. Dawn was upon them only after an hour. The sun rising above the hills, washing them with its brightness, giving light to a lush valley that was as vast as their eyes could see.

The ride seemed quicker by day atop the peaks of the hills. I watched the sun slowly arc across the eastern sky. Before it reached midday, they were descending into a valley surrounded by the hills that concealed the loch.

The trees became a thickened canopy, riding away the morning light, until the trees opened up around the hills. Father and I came out of the woods, eyes glowing from the light off the water. The loch was a deep blue that was impossible to know its depths while hills gave it a fishlike shape.

Their mounts knew the way from there, descending switch back after switch back until their hooves came level with the water. They led them to an old, beaten body of wood that sat above the water, extending twenty feet above the surface. The dock was even older than his father, and as they drew near, Eroh could see it needed repairs. At the dock they dismounted, allowing the horses to find their way to the pool and drink more than their fill.

"Grab your bows and let's get ready to hunt!" Father said, grinning as eagerly as a hoofling. "I'm ready to catch me some fish!"

I armed himself, making certain that my fairy-winged arrow was as ready as I was. I then followed my father to the end of the pier. A large wooden structure sat at the end, fitted with a spinning wheel, and two star-shaped cranks; the reel.

Father gave a quick lesson on how to tuck and tie the rope to the wheel, then to the arrow. And after much wrestling, I had done as his father told me.

"Now the fish out here are real monsters!" He guffawed, expanding his arms outward, far as he could. "Once the arrow has drove through them, you must wrench them back using the crank. Understood?"

I nodded, wide-eyed and sweaty.

Father pointed to the club on my back. "Once we get one on the dock, you must club it. Have you named her yet?"

Named it? The question troubled me. I never thought of that. Thankfully, I was quick to answer. "Fin ... bane. Yes. Finbane!" I slid it from my back, then with both hands, swung it until my father's teeth gleamed.

"Finbane ... I love it!" He guffawed. His eyebrows raised. "You're ready! Let me get myself positioned."

With my father preoccupied, I reached down and unbuckled the belt. "I am to become a man, Elior," I said, walking to the edge. I raised my hand, blade and sheath in palm. "May these memories be buried with you." And with that, I spread my fingers, allowing the blade to slip from its sheath. It dart through the surface, where it sank to the bottom, ready to sleep once again.

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ErichW

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