Tyra Shamansdöhter threw her head back and howled her joy at the skies as the wind whipped through her hair. Beneath her the powerful muscles of Amantol, her mount and life-mate, rippled as he propelled them both across the plains. The ancestors had blessed them both this day, carried them both out of danger, and they both felt the elation of freedom as they hurried back to the camp ground. The Khebl Cats were far behind them, spent and exhausted after a chase that had lasted most of the morning.
Even before she had cleared the hills surrounding the camp, Tyra knew that there was something wrong. The braves who should have been standing sentinel on the hills were not visible as she raced up the rise, and the Far-Eyes eagle that normally perched above her father’s lodge was spiralling wearily in the sky, it’s wings slow and heavy. As she reached the top of the last hill, she picked up the scent of death on the wind, instinctively reached forward to reassure Amantol as he sensed it with her. Fearing the worst, she guided him with her knees, heading for the cover of the nearby trees.
The camp was in chaos. Lodges had been scattered and burned throughout the clearing and here and there she could see the remains of people she had known. It was not in her nature to mourn but she could feel pain and anger growing inside her as Amantol carried her slowly towards her home. As she reached the entrance to the lodge she heard the mournful cry of the eagle above her and glanced up in time to see it stooping towards her. Unflinching, she watched as Far-Eyes settled on the branch of a nearby Vilm-nut tree, its strength spent in waiting for her to return. Voicing a choked greeting to the massive raptor she slid from Amantol’s back and pushed her way into the dark of her father’s lodge.
Her eyes quickly adjusted to the gloom and she choked back her anguish. Her mother lay dead over the cot of Siwal, her baby brother, killed with a sword blow to the back as she protected the most helpless member of the family. His tiny body was crushed beneath the larger form of his mother and Tyra could see where an unknown raider had thrust his blade through the child’s head, a cruel and unnecessary death. Tyra would shed no tears for their deaths, but silently she vowed vengeance upon their killers.
A cough in the darkness drew her attention and she turned to see her father, Kalt Eagle-Tongue, shaman of the Stone River tribe, laying broken against a post of the lodge. His eyes were open, filled with pain, and she marvelled at his strength. His body was criss-crossed with a series of wounds, any one of them enough to kill a normal man. The fact of his survival was testament enough to his link with the ancestors, the favour with which they looked upon him. Thanking them for his life, she dropped to floor beside him.
Even as she knelt beside him she knew that he had only lived for her return. His eyes filled with momentary joy as he recognised her face and his hand instinctively reached out to her. “Tyra,” he whispered, his voice weakened by his ordeal. “My daughter. My light.”
Tyra took her father’s hand in hers, tears rising to her eyes. “Rest, father,” she told him, her voice breaking in her sorrow.
“I cannot rest,” he replied, a memory of his old strength returning for a second. Just as quickly it was gone again. “I must finish this correctly, before it is too late.”
Tyra watched as he reached out for his staff, the badge of office he had carried for as long as she could remember. She knew that it was forbidden for any but the shaman to touch the staff, that the ancestors would punish any who touched it unbidden. It must have been this that her father had been protecting, not the child and wife he had watched die. As his fingers curled around the gnarled, ancient wood, his body was racked with pain and his muscles spasmed violently.
Recovering his composure, he held the staff towards her. “This is yours now,” he gasped, his fingers stroking the feathers pinned along its length with unashamed reverence.
Almost in fear, Tyra reached out for the staff, her fingers stopping scant inches from touching it. Her mind span in confusion as she fought against a lifetime of conditioning. The staff had always been a thing of mystery, an item of great power, and she knew that she was not yet ready for such responsibility. Pulling her hand back, she shook her head, trying desperately to clear her thoughts.
With surprising strength, her father caught her wrist and forced the staff into her hand. “You must take it,” he growled, his pain forgotten, his injuries no longer important. “I have not trained you for eight summers just to have you fail now.”
As soon as the staff touched her skin she felt its power and marvelled. Her doubts faded away as she realised that he was right. It was her duty to carry on the tradition of her family, to remember the ancestors of her tribe, even if she was the last. Determination flooding through her, she wrapped her other hand around the wood and savoured the strength that flowed into her.
She did not know how long she knelt there absorbing the power but as the moment passed she knew that Kalt had passed, no longer her father. She felt his spirit mingle with those in the staff and welcomed him home, wrapped him in the warmth of her protection. Ignoring the shell before her, she rose to her feet and left the lodge, her journey now visible to her for the first time.
Amantol waited patiently outside, cropping at the sparse grass of the camp ground. As she stepped out of the lodge he looked up, his ears twitching expectantly, and started to walk over to her. Without looking up, she held up her arm, calling Far-Eyes to her, knowing with absolute certainty that the eagle would now follow her, as he had followed Kalt before. His wings buffeted the air about her as he flew past, his talons scarring her arm in a single, precise line, marking her as his companion henceforth.
Pulling herself onto the pony’s back, Tyra turned her face once more on the lodge that had been her home for almost twenty summers and wiped away the last of her tears. She would have to travel like the wind if she was to catch the Wolf-Moon tribe before they crossed the mountains. Only amongst the Wolf-Moon could she hope to find the help she would need to bring vengeance upon the invaders that had killed her tribe.
With a cry of freedom, the eagle took to the skies, leading the way north for his new shaman, his eyes watching the plains for danger.
S. Naomi Scott (c) 2004