As the season of the blossoms passed, and stomachs were soon replete again, the call went up from eyrie to eyrie.
‘The trials! The time for the trial-flights of the Mawharhipi is come! Where are the Windlords? Where are the warriors?’
‘Yes!’ the Windlords agreed as they assembled at the Crag of Meeting. ‘It is time for the trials to begin.’
Messengers were sent to all champions and Perpetual Champions to make preparations. Warriors began their first trials under the watchful eyes of erstwhile champions. The winners of these progressed to the greater trials, overseen by the Perpetual Champions. These winners were called to the greatest race of them all.
ThunderWing watched from his cave as many young warriors sped by, practising their wing-strokes, dipping and twisting through practice courses as he had done countless times in the previous season. When he finally stood upon the Champion’s Stone with the Twig-of-Victory in his beak, the winner’s wreath around his neck and the crowds cheering hysterically around him, he thought he was equal to anything.
He sadly looked at himself in the drinking pool. Carefully, he tried flapping his slowly healing wing and sighed.
The day of the great race finally came, and excitement filled the air.
The younger eaglets crowded along the ledges and crags that lined Mawharhipa valley, with the older eagles behind them. The best positions, of course, were soon taken by the officiating Windlords who soon arrived. The eaglets who had previously taken these hastily made way or were hustled away by their parents, but this privilege was not the least begrudged.
As the great ones arrived, a chorus of welcoming cries and rustling wings arose.
‘Hail, Windlord StrongFeather, beloved father-of-many! Hail, Windlord WeatherWing the Wise, healer and prophet! Hail, Windlord FarSight, the Seer! Hail Windlord SwiftSlayer, mightiest of warriors! Hail Windlord BraveWing, Victor in Battle! Hail Windlord StormRider, Conqueror of the Tempest…….’ And the list went on.
When the Windlords had settled in their positions down the length of the course, the remotest Windlord, passed his signalling cry onto the next, and it continued down the course to Windlord StormRider, youngest of all Windlords, to whom the honour of officiating Mawharhipi WingTake was given that season.
StormRider was highly honoured amongst all the eyries, and songs of his Windlord Flight over the summit were sung at many feasts. It was said that an early storm had come when he was making his attempt upon the peak. Rather than retreat, he actually rode the upper winds of the storm, fulfilling the prophecy of FarSight the Seer who named him at birth.
Escaping the storm, StormRider ascended over the peak, escaping the clutches of dark Mawharikhὺn, who cowered from the threat of the warrior-storm below. But it had almost cost StormRider his life. Descending through the storm, he had been so badly buffeted and broken, he plummeted into the wooded valley below.
He landed among the bushes and it was a full day before his friends, braving the unpredictable storm season, could find him – almost dead. Succoured by WeatherWing in Healing Cave, he eventually improved enough to fly again, but never fully recovered. One of his talons no longer functioned properly, and impeded his ability to hunt.
Much to his chagrin, he had to be fed by the hunters and gatherers like StrongHand, son of HighSoarer.
Nevertheless, he was considered a hero by all the young warriors, prompting him to warn them all against trying to emulate his exploit. This, however, did not stop him from relishing the challenge of storm-riding, when it was fairly safe to do so.
Remarkably, his exploits never went to his head.
He was one of those who often agitated for justice to all the Mawh’eyri folk at Windlord council, which added to his popularity.
StormRider now perched a little awkwardly on the crag that overlooked WingTake Mesa, the starting and finishing point for the race. He spread his wings and sang the Song of Summoning, soon taken up by the spectators.
Come O warrior tried and true!
Honour and glory awaits for you!
Spread now your wings, show forth your great skill,
That you may stand upon Champion’s Hill.
And the young warriors appeared from all directions. They were strong, proud and often seasoned warriors, all hopeful of winning honour for their eyries – maybe even bearing the greatest honour of all one day: a Windlord’s mark upon his beak.
They alighted upon the Mesa, one by one from the youngest to the oldest, loudly proclaiming their lineage, their exploits and their eyrie’s war cry.
Last of all came NightFlyer, son of Windlord SwiftSlayer, and paraded himself around the edge of the mesa with his handsome wings fully stretched, proclaiming himself as “….fairest of warriors, greatest of hunters, swiftest in the mountains and Windlord-to-be!”
The other warriors muttered among themselves at these boasts, furious at his presumption. It had been recognized that StrongHand, son of HighSoarer the Fallen, had become recognized as the best and most cunning hunter. Eyes turned toward NightFlyer’s father, Windlord SwiftSlayer, but he stood in his position, proud and aloof. There was little love lost between father and son, but the father did not show any emotion at all.
One bold and budding young warrior sang out from among the spectators:
‘But where is ThunderWing Mawharhipi? Is he not among you all?’
He was hushed by his mother, but much fluttering of wings among the gathering followed, indicating that the question needed an answer.
‘ThunderWing, son of HighSoarer, has declined to fly in the trials.’ announced StormRider, looking annoyed at the breach of protocol. ‘His fall at the Great Mountain has impaired his flight, and he surrenders his title as Mawharhipi this season. He wishes all warriors well, that the Spirit-Wind may be with your wings.’
A ripple of disappointment went through the crowd. NightFlyer glowered.
None had ever forgotten the thrilling finish in the previous season’s race when the young eagle seemed to drop from the sky. He snatched the Twig of Victory from right under NightFlyer’s open beak. The lay was sung in every eyrie (except SwiftSlayer’s) and many feasts for many moons following.
The proceedings continued, and the traditional Singer of Ceremonies was summoned.
It was GoldSinger, daughter of StrongFeather who came forward and alighted next to StormRider. Another rustle of astonishment went through the crowd. None more so than the disapproval among the competitors.
‘But where is SilverSong the Fair, daughter of Windlord StrongFeather, and greatest of singers?’ NightFlyer called out, totally disregarding all etiquette.
‘We shall have no more flouting of the traditions, young warrior!’ came the stern reply from the crag. StormRider glanced hesitatingly, almost in embarrassment, up the valley where he could just make out StrongFeather’s outline on one of the furthest crags.
‘SilverSong, daughter of Windlord StrongFeather cannot come,’ he informed them all, ‘for she teaches many eaglets in the ways of the WindSong in the Northern Mountains. GoldSinger, her sister, has consented to take her place at our request.’
A collective sigh of disappointment went up from all the warriors. SilverSong was considered the favourite, partly because of her transcendent beauty, and her lively, laughing style of performance was more appealing to any eyrion. However, most of the civilian spectators considered that GoldSinger had the better voice. Nor were they disappointed.
GoldSinger did not envy her sister’s beauty, for the family of that eyrie was a close-knit community. She had learned everything SilverSong could teach her of the ways of the WindSong, and had surpassed her in technical quality at least. She was surprised at her sister’s reluctance, but considered it an honour to take her place.
Spreading back her wings, she attuned her voice to the breeze and began to sing. She sang the traditional ballad sung at the beginning of every formal gathering of the Mawh’eyri.
It was the tale of the coming of their tribe to the mountains at the bidding of the great Spirit-Wind. She sang of their third lord-chieftain, WideWing the Wanderer and his nest-mate MotherWind the Wise who tamed the feuding of the Mawh’eyri warriors, bringing the eyries together under a common law.
She sang of the rise of the Windlords, who took over responsibilities from the traditional chieftains, reformed and enforced the laws and scratched them on the Stones of Judgment.
She sang of the rise of the warrior class, and the united battles against the invasions of the wild eagles, the Hrah’eyri , who outnumbered them but were defeated by the Mawh’eyri under Windlord BrightWing the Brave. The enemy had seldom returned since, except on raids on the outlying eyries. But the local warriors were vigilant.
She also sang of the terrible Storm Season, of the coming of the Great Black Storm and his minions, most of whom were slain by the pursuing White Winds. All the people of the Mawh’eyri hid in their eyries in fear as the war raged all around them, and even in those later days, they shudder at its memory.
The Black Storm finally found refuge in the caves of the Great Mountain, even though he was constantly under siege by the mighty servants of the Great Spirit Wind, especially at the waning of the year. The dark one was renamed Mawharikhὺn, dark prisoner of the mountain, even though he himself considered it his domain when the White Warrior Winds were far away.
But the darkest times passed, and the Mawh’eyri came to accept the dangers of their perilous neighbour. It was even considered a greater honour for a champion eyrion to conquer the Mountain and outwit its terrifying resident as well. For many seasons it seemed as if he slept, leaving them all in peace.
On that note, GoldSinger ended her song.
A hushed and reverent silence followed.
GoldSinger then lifted her head, and struck up the Anthem of the Mawh’eyri. Soon they all joined in, with the harmonies flowing all the way down the valley and echoing throughout the mountains.
None of them noticed the lonely and ragged young eagle behind the crowds as he quietly took wing, wearily, awkwardly and sadly labouring his way toward Healing Cave.