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             Tyree’s purpose in taking the Tranca girl for a ride was threefold. He wanted to see how well her recovery allowed her to sit a horse, for the council’s decision regarding the captive required her to travel some distance to her clan’s location. Tyree also wanted to investigate her designs in beguiling his two cousins. He wasn’t sure what his third purpose was for taking the girl riding. It was something his inner senses told him to carry out.

            “And what do you propose to do on this ride?” Shuyah asked when Tyree arrived with two ponies. “Kill me, or assault me in some other fashion?”

            “Don’t flatter yourself,” Tyree laughed. “You must be able to ride if you are to return to your people.”

            Hope filled her solemn face. “I’m going home?”

            “That is one option,” he returned pointedly.

            Tyree arranged for the girl to ride a pony that was old and slow in case she tried to run. It was a pleasant day so that she and Tyree could ride in the sun with their fur hoods back—a rare and pleasing temperature just below freezing. Soon, the frozen rivers would become trickles then, great torrents. All the clans knew that warm weather meant danger. They were balmy days, portending the thaw.

            The two rode for some time over an area desolate and spent. The sparse tufts of thaw grass that had poked their brown blades warily above the snow had been sheared off by the clan’s herds. The tundra bushes had been denuded of their leaves. It was time for the Kodiak to move.

            Tyree took with him Wingswift, his hunting bird. It perched supremely observant on his shoulder as they rode. Wingswift was no delicate falcon or peregrine. Wingswift was a snow eagle, and a hunter in every nuance of the term. Tyree used Wingswift to hunt doves and ducks, and the long eared white rabbits called snowshoes, all delicacies rare for a people that feasted mostly on mutton and caribou.

            “Would not a well placed arrow bring the same reward, leaving no need to train, feed and house an eagle?” the girl said, trying to find in their hunt anything derogatory.

            “One cannot judge the worth of an arrow until it kills one’s enemy,” Tyree shrugged.

            “That is a Tranca saying!” Shuyah fumed. “You stole it from us, like you do everything else!”

            “It’s Kodiak, this saying, and was so when time began.”

            “Liar!” the girl hissed then she turned her head away.

            Tyree thought a long moment as their ponies ambled on.

            “Perhaps this saying belongs to us both,” he suggested, getting only a scowl of confusion from the girl. “Perhaps we were once, when time began, all—one clan.”

            “The Tranca and the Kodiak?” Shuyah laughed. “The only time they see eye-to-eye is when one kills the other.”

            “Are all the Tranca women now building their hate in order to enter service?” Tyree asked. “Hate for the Kodiak?”

            “You are trying to trick me.”

            Tyree just looked at her, pony-to-pony, with a face of surprised innocence.

            “Military information?” she said. When he feigned confusion, she elaborated. “Trying to learn the disposition of our female warriors?”

            “Ah, so the Tranca do have women in armor,” he said with sham astonishment. “You’ll find it works out quite well. The Kodiak have done so since time began.”

            Wingswift’s big yellow eyes caught a distant movement. With one flap of its great white wings it was airborne and going for altitude. The eagle’s takeoff was so powerful it blew back the long red hair of the enemy princess.

            Wingswift became a speck, and then vanished into the blue. But Tyree’s special eyes could see his hunting bird clearly. Wingswift circled, planning what would be a devastating attack. Second only to their snow ponies, the Kodiak revered the eagle most among the wind’s creatures. Never was one killed, and when an injured eagle was found, the Kodiak nursed it back to health. The Kodiak never used eagle feathers as ornaments. The feathers used to guide their arrows came from ducks and brush hens.

            Wingswift called out its distant attack scream. Shuyah squinted up into the sun to find the bird. She saw nothing, but shortly there came a sound, one that rose in octaves as it grew louder. It was a wind-whistling sound like she’d never heard. A shadow flashed by as the eagle swept down into the underbrush. It vanished but a moment then arose with a large snowshoe rabbit in its talons. With great flaps of its wings it skimmed the underbrush toward the riders. The eagle swooped upward letting go its dead prey which fell into Tyree’s waiting hands. The Tranca girl was amazed.

            “You should see him fish,” Tyree smiled, and the girl smiled back for the first time since her capture.

            Tyree and Shuyah returned to camp with seven rabbits, four brush hens, ten snowbirds, and a dozen doves.

            “My family will eat well, tonight,” Tyree said as they rode past the outer sentries of the encampment. “It is only fitting that I should invite my hunting partner to dinner.”

            Shuyah smiled again. “I should like that,” she said.

            “I was speaking of my eagle,” Tyree teased, and then he galloped ahead.

            She laughed and prodded her old snow pony in pursuit. Tyree looked back to see how well she was riding. She’d be all right, Tyree said, but only to himself, for he didn’t want the girl to think he cared at all about her welfare.

            He wasn’t fooling her.

            Tyree’s family did feast well that night, and both Wingswift and Shuyah were invited. Tyree’s young cousins sat on either side of the girl in awe of her, causing their father, Golanka, commander of the military, to worry.

            “This one casts her spell over my two sons,” Golanka said in confidence to Tyree as they both reclined on bearskin rugs and ate rabbit roasted on a skewer.

            “She is crafty,” Tyree replied.

            “Has her spell found a willing subject in you?” the old warrior asked looking into Tyree’s eyes for evidence of fabrication. Tyree betrayed no such purpose.

            “She is merely a prize,” Tyree shrugged. “When I look at her, I see a hundred cords of wood.”

            The two warriors laughed, uncle and nephew. Tyree’s family produced a long line of military commanders, as Tyree’s dead grandfather, who was Golanka’s father, had been until his age numbered eighty thaws. He became an elder, and ran for council. Rarely was a former commander voted onto the Council of Elders, and so it was with Grandfather, never elected because of his radical views.

            Tyree’s parents were killed by the Logalla when Tyree was but a baby—a newborn without memory, without memory still, of the parents who placed him upon the snow. Grandfather took Tyree in, trained him as his father would have. In eight thaws, Golanka would become an elder.

            “You are in the line to take my place in a few thaws,” Golanka said to Tyree.

            “Should the elders so decide,” Tyree replied.

            “You must beware of the Tranca,” Golanka purposely said. “They are treacherous. We should send an entire legion on this mission of yours.”

            “The council has their own ways.”

            “So it would seem,” Golanka sighed.

            “So it has always been,” Tyree said.

            Konka and Drinda, as members of Tyree’s unit, were also invited to the feast. Tyree’s family had no musicians, but Konka’s did. Konka brought with him three relatives who entertained with music and song. After all had eaten and music filled the hut, Tyree sent his two cousins off to feed his ponies. Tyree then sat next to Shuyah, both cross-legged on fur rugs in turn set upon floors of caribou hides placed right upon the snow. Tables and chairs were unknown. They were excess baggage to snomads always on the move.

            “What do you think of Kodiak music?” Tyree asked.

            “Not unlike Tranca music,” she shrugged, “but your songs speak more of the wind and snow, than of bravery in battle and victory in war.”

            “So, the Tranca sing of these things,” Tyree said.

            “Warriors,” she noted, “live for these things.”

            “Warriors who make peace live longer,” he replied.

            Tyree looked into her eyes. They revealed little regard for peace. Her eyes were green, her hair shimmering red, both rare upon the snow, where most eyes were dark, most hair brown or black. The only ones not so were a small mysterious clan known as the Ghost Warriors. Tyree had never seen them, though they were spoken of often by the few elders who insisted they had. Ghost Warriors had white hair, pink eyes, and skin the color of snow. They rode only white ponies and wore the white fur of the snow bear. They were invisible upon the snow. Kodiak children were made obedient by their mothers’ stories of how the Ghost Warriors abducted bad children in the night. As one got older, the stories became more of a legend that told of a time long ago when the Ghost Warriors were part of the Kodiak. The Ghost Warriors avoided contact, content to hide upon the snow even more efficiently than did the Kodiak. Thus it was believed that they were great warriors—if they existed at all.

            “Have you ever heard of the Ghost Warriors?” Tyree asked of Shuyah.

            “Of course,” she laughed, “stories to scare children into behaving.”

            “Have you ever seen them?”

            “No. You?”

            Tyree shook his head no. “My grandfather told me he’d seen the Ghost Warriors on more than one occasion. Or rather, more than once the Ghost Warriors had allowed themselves to be seen by him, as he always so eloquently said it. Grandfather said that the Ghost Warriors can blend. Be invisible upon the snow, even on a clear day. Be standing next to you and you would not detect their presence.”

            “Yes, I have heard this,” Shuyah recalled. “My mother often told me that long ago the Ghost Warriors, who were already shunned by the clan for their odd appearance, came forth and suggested that the clan avoid battle rather than engage and kill the enemy at every opportunity. Their suggestion was, of course, rejected by the Tranca king, so they went upon the snow and were never seen again.”

            “They were once Tranca, then?” Tyree said, unable to conceal the smile of amusement that flickered over his face.

            Shuyah recoiled slightly and offered an amused smile of her own. “You think they were Kodiak?”

            Tyree shrugged. “So we’ve all been told. If the Ghost Warriors exist, they have remained hidden since time began. Managed to avoid detection, even by the wind. They therefore must be Kodiak.”

            “Yet even the Kodiak’s ability to read the wind cannot find them,” Shuyah teased, “so if they are not Tranca, they must actually be ghosts.”

            Both laughed. The girl was as refreshing as new snow. Tyree was growing fond of her. Some things can’t be helped.

            Tyree invited Shuyah to join him in feeding his snow eagle that sat patiently upon a wooden perch in a corner of the hut. Wingswift gobbled the strips of raw rabbit meat and blinked those huge round yellow eyes looking for more. Tyree offered a bit of the meat for Shuyah to feed the bird. She did so and got her fingers gently nipped. Tyree laughed, for he knew Wingswift always did this as punishment for anyone other than Tyree offering food.

            Tyree then took the girl around to meet his seven aunts and six uncles, saving Golanka for last, which was traditionally an indication of honor in Kodiak society.

            “So, the daughter of my enemy eats rabbit in my hut,” Golanka said, rising to tower over the girl.

            “The great Golanka is a legend among the Tranca,” she smiled, hoping to get the hulking commander on her side.

            “More Tranca would talk of me,” Golanka smiled back, “if I hadn’t killed so many.”

            “My uncle is not an admirer of the Tranca,” Tyree said.

            “My father is equally enamored of the Kodiak,” the girl deftly countered.

            This drew a laugh from Golanka, accomplishing what both Tyree and Shuyah had hoped: tempering the bitterness and hate the Kodiak commander had for the Tranca.

            “I always thought that my father, who commanded the Kodiak legions before me, went too easy on the Tranca,” Golanka said.

            “Grandfather had certain—beliefs,” Tyree explained for Shuyah. “He believed that one day, the Tranca and the Kodiak, perhaps even the Logalla, would war no more.”

            “A foolish notion of friendship between the clans,” Golanka guffawed. “I fear my father, who raised Tyree after his parents were killed, has used that mentoring to impart his foolish notions in Tyree.”

            Tyree shrugged. “I killed four Tranca ten days ago.”

            “Yes and a far larger number of Logalla over your few, but worthy, warrior years, my nephew.” Golanka turned to Shuyah and took up a portion of her long red hair to rub between his calloused warrior’s fingers. “It is good that you are beautiful,” Golanka grinned. “My nephew will always be looking at you, and thus seldom offer you his back.”

            Shuyah did not rise to the bait, which made Golanka even more impressed with her.

            “Indeed, he has been most attentive,” she smiled. “Somewhere in his family he somehow learned manners.”

            Golanka burst out in raucous laughter, which afforded Tyree and Shuyah the opportunity to bow slightly to the Kodiak military commander and return to their seats there on the caribou skins that covered the hard packed snow.

            Shuyah turned to look at Tyree, her stunning face held open to his remembrances. “Your parents. How did they die?”

            Tyree felt suddenly awkward. “I thought my family history was of no interest to you.”

            Shuyah placed a comforting hand on his arm. “That was before I knew you.” She smiled at Golanka. “Met your family. Found your village and its people not unlike my own.”

            “My parents were killed by the Logalla,” Tyree said. “They waited in ambush at the watering pond near where our clan was camped. Attacked when there was but one warrior to defend his wife who’d come to bathe their newborn child.”

            “To lose one’s parents at so young an age...”

            “I have no memory of them. As my uncle said, my grandfather raised me, all my other grandparents having been put beneath the ice before my arrival upon the snow.”

            “Hard to believe that the Logalla did not take you, an orphaned male, and force you into the Bulwark.”

            “My parents had hidden me in a stand of brush when the Logalla attacked. My grandfather found me. Later, he told me of the Logalla’s treachery so that I might never forget my duty to avenge my parents. I have killed many Logalla,” Tyree added with bitterness. “Still, I search for The Scar.”

            “The Scar?”

            “My father lived long enough to describe the Logalla that attacked them. A full twenty-man cohort led by a young warrior with a scar across his forehead, one that turned both his right brow and eye white as snow. If he still lives, I shall one day end that circumstance.”

            The two warriors from different clans talked at length, more about their similarities than about their differences. When Tyree saw Shuyah yawn and rub her wounded shoulder, Tyree took her home.

            A full moon bathed the wilderness with an ethereal blue glow, the snow reflecting the moon’s rare and mystical light. Tyree walked Shuyah to his dead grandfather’s hut.

            “The council has decided your status,” he informed her.

            “If it is washing your undergarments at the river,” she replied, “better you should kill me.”

            They laughed. It was becoming easier each time.

            “In a few days I will take you home to your people,” he said.

            “To be traded for wood,” she noted.

            “The council must confide their decisions in my two young cousins,” Tyree joked.

            They laughed again then stopped before her hut to look at the moon. Wolves howled distantly.

            “The Kodiak believe the spirits of long dead warriors walk the snow when the moon is full,” he said as they watched the moon’s light shimmer across the snow.

            “As do the Tranca,” she pointed out. “Maybe we were, when time began, one clan.”

            Shuyah’s conversion to this possibility surprised Tyree, as Shuyah knew it would. Then Shuyah smiled, pulled back the caribou hide covering the doorway to her hut, and went in.

 

CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER 4: “TREES”

 

 

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