Chief Old-Bear laughed. “I imagine that might have upset the Vlagh just a bit.”
“More than a bit, My Chief,” Longbow replied. “We could hear her screaming from miles away.”
“Is there something happening that I should know about?” Red-Beard asked curiously.
“It’s a very old story that’s been handed down in our tribe for years and years,” Longbow explained. “It has to do with a crisis that lies off in the future and what we’ll have to do to meet that crisis. There are some references to strangers in the myth—probably Sorgan and Narasan—and to some elemental forces—fire, water, wind—that sort of thing. The story’s possibly been garbled just a bit over the years, but down at the bottom, it seems to be very close to what we’ve encountered so far.”
“Are there any hints about what we ought to be looking for up in the north or off to the east?”
“Nothing very specific,” Longbow replied. “Visions of one kind or another tend to get just a bit disrupted as time goes by.”
“Do you think the outlanders will need our help if the creatures of the Wasteland attack the Domain of Zelana’s older brother, my son?” Old-Bear asked.
“Probably not, My Chief,” Longbow replied. “The Tonthakans are fairly good archers, and if the Maag smiths cast bronze arrowheads for them, they should be able to do what needs to be done. If things start getting out of hand, though, I’ll send word to you.” He paused. “How is One-Who-Heals getting along?” he asked.
“Not too good, my son,” Old-Bear replied. “It would seem that age is one of the diseases that he can’t heal.”
“That’s too bad,” Longbow said. “He is—or was—a very good teacher.” Then he looked at Red-Beard. “I’ll be back in just a little while and then we can paddle on back to the Seagull and join our friends.” Then he left Chief Old-Bear’s lodge.
“Where’s he going?” Red-Beard asked Longbow’s chief.
“To visit Misty-Water’s grave, probably,” Old Bear replied.
“Oh,” Red-Beard said. “I don’t think he’s ever mentioned her to me—or anybody else—but some of the men in your tribe spoke of her on occasion. People who don’t know about her don’t understand Longbow, and he frightens them. Of course, sometimes he frightens even me.”
“He was not always like he is now, Red-Beard,” Old-Bear said. “The time will come, I think, when he’ll draw his bow with the Vlagh for his target.”
“I hope he doesn’t miss when that day comes.”
“I wouldn’t worry, Red-Beard,” Old-Bear replied. “Longbow never misses when he draws his bow.”
“I’ve noticed that.”
“I’m sure you have. Everybody who’s ever met him notices that.”
The meadowlands of the clan of Ekial of Malavi lay near the north coast, and that gave the clan a certain advantage over the clans that lay farther to the south. The cattle-buyers from the Trogite Empire did business in the coastal towns, which were surrounded by extensive cattle-pens and with loading piers jutting out into the sea. This made things very convenient for the northern clans, since there were no long cattle-drives involved when the time came to sell cows.
The village of the clan was a pleasant place near the southern edge of the clan territory where a sparkling brook came tumbling down out of the hills which lay to the south. The meadows surrounding the village were lush and green, so the cattle had little reason to wander off.
The pavilions in the village were made of leather, of course, and there was a certain advantage to that. The Trogite cattle-buyers in the coastal towns lived in houses made of wood, and once those houses had been built, they stayed where they were. Leather pavilions, however, can be moved without much difficulty if necessary.
It was not uncommon among the Malavi for a proud father to announce that his son had been riding horses since before he learned how to walk. That was probably an exaggeration, but Ekial couldn’t remember a day when he hadn’t spent most of his time on horseback.
There were several other boys of about the same age as Ekial in the village, and, quite naturally, the boys spent much of their time racing. The horses their fathers had given them when they were still quite small had been rather old and tired, so they didn’t run very fast, but the boys still enjoyed those races. Ekial had several friends among the boys of the clan, and those friends were about the same age as he was. Ariga was maybe a year younger than Ekial, and Baltha and Skarn were a bit older, but they all got along well with each other.
Ekial wasn’t quite sure just why it was that the other three boys deferred to him as they played together. He wasn’t the biggest, certainly, and the horse his father had given him wasn’t the fastest, but for some reason, they seemed to expect him to make the important decisions—“Let’s race,” “Let’s give the horses time to catch their breath,” or, “Isn’t it just about lunchtime?”
As the years moved on, the boys learned many things by listening to the conversations of their elders around the fire after the sun went down. The standard myth in the meadowland of Malavi was that in times long past, horses had been a gift from the god Mala. It was an entertaining story that was often repeated around the fire after supper, but Ekial and his friends were quite sure that there was little truth in the story. An untamed horse could hardly be called “a gift.”
Ekial learned that the hard way when he was about twelve years old. Custom demanded that every man should tame his own mount before he could be recognized as a real Malavi. The wild horse his father gave him on his twelfth birthday was “spirited,” a common term among the Malavi that glossed over the true nature of wild horses. Ekial privately believed that “vicious,” “savage,” and “evil” might come closer to the truth.
Of course, the fact that his gift horse broke his right arm the first time he tried to mount the beast might have played some part in his opinion. After his arm healed, Ekial approached his “gift” with a certain caution. He had a fair amount of success with twisting the horse’s ear—very hard—but then the problem of biting came up. Ekial learned never to turn his back on his horse, and he took to carrying a stout strap. After he’d slashed the horse across the nose with the strap a few times, the beast evidently decided that biting his owner wasn’t a very good idea.