AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
Daidam was relieved when she felt a change in Horse’s gait. Her arms and thighs were aching from holding onto his mane and from being pressed against his sides. And she was sore around her waist and ribs from being held so tightly by Milas seated behind her on Horse’s broad back.
After leaving the village, Horse had galloped most of the distance and was just as relieved as Daidam to see the trees thinning. He slowed as he approached the clearing between the forest and the base of the butte. Coyote, panting heavily, had stopped at a small creek that followed a crooked path around the trees and Horse trotted up beside him. “You may get down,” he told his riders.
Daidam helped Milas slide down Horse’s side then she swung her leg over his neck and dropped to ground. Her stiff muscles protested the activity and she had to lean against Horse to keep herself from falling.
Coyote looked up, water dripping off her chin. “You did well, two-legged. Most fall off when they first attempt to ride.” He grinned as Daidam struggled to control her wobbly legs.
Milas was concerned that even though Horse had dropped his head to drink from the creek Daidam continued to clutch onto his side. “What harm has Horse brought upon you?”
“My legs are trembling,” Daidam answered. “I fear I can no longer stand.”
“Your legs quiver but no harm has befallen you. Walk and make them strong again,” Coyote said.
Milas slipped her arm around Daidam’s waist. “Come. Take hold of me. I will aid you.”
“Your hold is strong. I fear I bear its wounds.”
Milas looked at Daidam in alarm. “I have brought you harm?”
“Aye. But you knew not.”
“Two-legged!” Daidam and Milas turned to see Coyote glaring at them. “Your journey has begun not. Are your injuries such you wish to abandon it?”
“Then stand.” Daidam did as Coyote commanded. “Walk.”
Daidam took a tentative step. Then another. And another. She quickly discovered that, although her muscles were stiff and sore, each step was easier than the last. She walked several strides from the creek then turned and return to the others. “I am ready. Let us go to the butte so I might climb its cliffs,” she said determinedly.
Coyote chuckled. “Drink, young Daidam. Then we shall continue.”
Daidam knelt at the edge of the creek, valiantly fighting back groans of pain as she cupped her hands together and dipped them into the water.
Milas knelt beside her. “Are you well?”
“Aye,” Daidam assured her through gritted teeth.
Coyote led the foursome out of the forest. Daidam was surprised to see the location was familiar to her. “Why do you lead us here?”
“What be wrong, Daidam?” Milas asked.
Daidam pointed to the seemingly solid cliff face. “I stepped from the path there only to find it was no more when I looked again. This is not the way for us to return to Arhdahl.”
“If you are to climb the cliff, why bring doubt as to where you place your first step?” Coyote asked.
“The bones. I shall not wish to cross the bones,” Daidam answered remembering the whirlwind that had slammed into the rock when she had first entered the bone field.
“Then choose another way.”
Daidam turned to walk along the edge of the bone field seeking its end.
“Shall I follow?” Milas asked Coyote.
“The decision is not mine. But know you will end from which you began.” Milas considered Coyote’s answer then hurried after Daidam.
“Their will is strong,” Horse said when Daidam and Milas disappeared around the foot of the butte.
“As it must be.”
“The bones have no end,” Milas said after she and Daidam had walked for some distance.
Daidam stopped. She looked back in the direction they had come and then turned and looked into the distance. “This many… I…”
“It is difficult to fathom,” Milas whispered. “So many… Why?”
“That is for the Council to answer. Come, we must find a way to the cliff without disturbing the bones.”
“If we cannot?”
Daidam started to answer then stopped. “Come,” she said and quickened her steps.
Badger rumbled out of the forest and into the clearing where Horse and Coyote were resting in the shade of the butte. “You serve Airhini well, Horse,” she said as she joined them.
“The touch of the two-legged has been missed.”
“You have restored its memory.”
“Then my duty is done for this day.”
“Aye.” Badger smiled. “Return to your carrots.”
“I am to stay?” Coyote asked as Horse trotted back into the forest.
“Is it to be known to but two?”
“Fox joins us.”
Coyote nodded. He had sensed the closeness of Fox who had yet to appear. “She waits in the forest?”
“She sits beside you.” Badger laughed when Coyote jumped to his feet and spun around looking for Fox.
“Where? Where does she hide?”
Fox stretched leisurely, her back arching as her body lengthened with the action. She had been waiting in the clearing since early in the morn and had felt no particular need to reveal herself to Coyote and Horse when they arrived with the two-leggeds. “I hide not. I simply rest and wait,” she said as she rose from between a pair of small boulders near the bone field.
Coyote gazed suspiciously at Fox. “You rest with the sacred bones?”
“I rest in the shade.”
“They come near,” Badger said, interrupting the exchange between Fox and Coyote.
“Daidam, look. Coyote and Badger have come to us.”
“No. We have returned to where we began.”
“We have walked far. Has the butte been ringed?”
“Aye. Yet, the path we seek is not to be found.”
“Do not doubt your knowledge,” Badger told Daidam as she and Milas stopped before her.
Daidam dropped to the ground to sit in front of Badger. “Speak true. The field of Winged is vast. Why so many and yet no more?”
“Your question speaks of the heart within you, Daidam. At one time, the Winged filled the sky, their sharp eyes keeping watch over Airini. Then a darkness fell and the Winged flew no more.”
“Aye. Unlike any known within the Realm before or after.”
“What brought this darkness?”
Badger sighed. “The answer is not for me to reveal.”
“Then we go. May we cross the Winged without harm?” Daidam asked as she pushed herself off the ground.
“Wait,” Badger told her then waited for Daidam to settle back down in front of her. “Your return to the butte will not be welcomed. You must trust in only one you find there.”
“Name this one.”
“I cannot. But you will know.”
“What will guide me?”
Badger smiled. “Your heart, young Daidam. Your heart. Now, go. Cross the sacred bones of the Winged. You will find your path.”
Milas waited for Daidam to stand before asking Badger, “Will we return to Airini?”
“The choice is for you to make.”
“Come, Milas. Eve approaches.” Daidam led Milas to the field of bones. She located the rocks she had used to safely cross the field before. “Watch where I place my boots,” she told Milas. “Do as I do and nothing more.” When Milas nodded her understanding, Daidam placed a booted foot on the first stone. It did not take long before she was standing on the small patch of empty ground at the foot of the butte.
“They are gone,” Milas said in surprise when she safely crossed the bone field then look over it for Badger and Coyote. “And the stones are no more,” she exclaimed as the stepping stones were reclaimed by the bones surrounding them.
“We go forward, not back. The path has returned,” Daidam said, standing before a familiar gap in the cliff face.
“What are we to find, Daidam?”
“I know not.” Daidam thought for a moment before searching the ground around them. When she spotted her spear, she walked to it. “I dropped this,” she said lifting the spear, “yet until this moment I have no need of it.” She rotated the spear in her hands, examining the long shaft and its sharp point. “Airini was new to me, a land like none I knew. I walked with those I did not know. I spoke as did they. Yet, fear did not fill me. Now, I prepare to return to Arhdahl, home to my father and mother. And to their fathers and mothers. And I fear.”
A sudden puff of wind blew across the bone field disturbing a single feather from its rest. Daidam and Milas watched as the feather floated toward them then lightly settled at their feet.
Milas stooped to pick it up. “Badger spoke of one we are to trust.”
Milas slipped the feather’s shaft into her belt leaving the downy plume visible. “Let us find that one.”
Daidam nodded then led Milas onto the rocky path. They did not go far when they heard their names being called. They turned to see Fox trotting up to them.
“Listen to my words,” Fox told them. “Do not approach Arhdahl until after the fall of eve. Seek out the Crone. She will guide you.” The she turned and trotted back the way she had come.
Daidam and Milas watched until Fox could no longer be seen. Then they continued on their journey up the cliff face.
Continued in Chapter Eleven
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