Sunday 12 March 2017

Excerpt from "Wings in the Wind", Chapter 2: In the Caves of Healing.

ThunderWing was dozing, but awoke to the sounds of wings approaching.

A vision of beauty, one that constantly haunted his dreams,appeared at the entrance.
She was the loveliest eagle-maiden he had ever seen—a princess among the Mawh’eyri, with faultless golden plumage, delicate markings and graceful carriage. Her wingstrokes were like joyous laughter. Her eyes were both as brilliant and liquid as the sun shining through the mountain waterfall, as soft and tender as a dove´s.
Her voice, upon entering the cave, was a song like the soft sighing of a spring breeze.

As she alighted next to him, the fragrance of her feathers, brushed with aromatic herbs, washed over him like warm river-streams in summer.

At one sight of her, ThunderWing gaped and swallowed with deep longing.
He raised himself awkwardly to bow in greeting, dismally aware of his unsightly state, and then sank down in shame and hopelessness.
She brushed him with a teasing sweep of a laughing wing to get his attention again.
He tried to rise, but she stayed him.
Standing before him, she bowed gracefully with wings spread, as an eaglet would do homage to a great Windlord.

‘Hail, ThunderWing Mawharhipi, mighty warrior who defies the black storm!
Hail, he who shall be Windlord hereafter!’

Her very voice sounded to him like the trickling music of a pure mountain rivulet.

‘Hail, SilverSong the Fair!’ he replied, both gratified and mystified by the tribute. He bestirred himself again and sat up.

‘Do you honour a fool with your presence? Why do you bow in homage? I will never be a Windlord as was my father. I am not worthy of you. Surely NightFlyer, my rival, may now claim you.’

SilverSong gave a musical laughing cry and butted ThunderWing playfully with her shining golden head.

‘O foolish one. NightFlyer shall never be my nest-mate. Do not demean yourself, for I know you. We have been wingfellows, you and I, since our fi rst fl ights together. Did you not guide me and protect me when I fell on my first flight? Have you not won great honour amongst the Mawh’eyri? Are you not Swiftest in the Mountains? You are destined to soar over the Great Summit, and my song shall soar with you.’

ThunderWing raised his head again in disbelief. He felt as though he had been shot skyward by a powerful updraught, and was floating on the clouds.
‘SilverSong! Is this true? You will choose me in despite of my folly? In spite of my shame?’

She nestled her head against his and crooned,
‘When I heard of your fall, and your wish to choose me, it was then that I knew you were the only nest-mate for me, Windlord or no. I came wingfleet from the Northern Mountains when my father spoke of your plight.’

She turned away in embarrassment and stared out across the valley towards the distant Northern Mountains.
‘Indeed, I have been the fool. Do you remember the time when I came among you all in the Southern Hills during the Mawh’ree trials? You saw me little at first, for you had eyes only for your goals in the trials—even when I called to you, playfellow!’

‘I…I did not recognize you,’ he protested feebly. ‘It was two long seasons since we parted as playfellows in the Western Mountains. I had not realized how beautifully you had blossomed as the mountain moonflower. When I realized who you were, it was then I knew that whatever was needed to win your favour, I must do it. It gave strength to my wings and hands, and soon only NightFlyer among them all could match me!’

She smiled, sighed, and regarded him with tender mockery in her brilliant eyes.
Eyrionis! You are all such strange creatures! Well, you seemed to be no longer my playfellow, so I turned my attention to others. There I saw many friends of my youth among the eyrierë, strutting and simpering like the Mirror-birds of the valleys, displaying their feather-dyes before me, tittering and chirping at me that I refused such vanities. Yet I became the warriors’ favourite at the fi rst trials! Some even laid a tail feather before me. My friends were furiously jealous! I revelled in the adulation of all the warriors, and my vanity grew when NightFlyer turned his proud face toward me. I was flattered and blinded by his attentions, for he is the fairest of warriors—this I will allow. Many eyrierë swooned over him and I, SilverSong, had conquered his cold heart, him who despised them all! Truly, it was his overweening pride that caused me to weary of him. Then I saw your valour at the games. I rejoiced at your victory at the Mawharhipi trials. All still sing of the final moment when you snatched the twig of victory from before NightFlyer’s open beak!’

She turned and faced him again, shaking her lovely head at her own folly.
‘I thought it was merely our old friendship that drew me to you, as well as your prowess, which I honour indeed. But I was weary of Night-Flyer and the adulation at the warrior games. I was weary of the jealousies and vanities of my friends. I longed for the soothing Songs of the Wind in the Northern Mountains, not knowing my own heart. But when your mother spoke of your longing for me and of your fall, my heart awoke, seeing you as you truly are….’

She nestled her head next to his again, crooning musically.
‘….. My protector, the dear friend of my youth, the mighty warrior destined for great things; the lovesick fool who would risk his life for the sake of one eyreira; the poor, broken shell of an eaglet who now needs a lifting wing; an honest heart that has learned from his folly and humbled his pride. That…is the nest-mate that I look for, my love.’

ThunderWing felt a warmth in his heart and a lump in his throat. He did not know what to say to such a declaration. It was a love that went beyond mere admiration. This wonderful and beautiful eagle-maid took him for what he really was! It was more than he deserved.

But it was useless. He bowed his head again in sorrow.
‘But the laws of the Mawh’eyri are not readily changed. I will neither have the armour nor the strength to attempt the mountain in the coming season. If NightFlyer conquers the peak, he will claim you as is his right, and this our blossoming love-flight cannot come to fruition.’

SilverSong stepped back, scorn and resolution in her eye and stance.
‘NightFlyer? He is nothing but a boasting fool! Cruel, proud and heartless! He deems me to be his nest-mate already! How I came to think the same in seasons gone by, I know not. This I have considered, my Windlord, my beloved. If that black crow should try to claim me, I shall flee the mountains and forsake the eyries of the Mawh’eyri, and live in solitude in the forests and hills beyond the Western Marches. You may join me there, if you will. We shall make nest in the highest trees or the darkest caves, far away from the tyranny of our law.’

ThunderWing shook his head in dismay.
‘This you must not do, SilverSong, my beloved! It is perilous! Nature has not armed us for such a life. It is the realm of Hauraugh, the black beast of the four talons, who has the spirit and voice of Mawharikhὺn within him. They say there are many sharp stones within his very beak. He has the stealth of the mountain spider and flies without wings upon his prey. And what of the wild eagle’s tribes, the Hrah’eyri? Their warriors would take you by force!’

‘I will abide the peril. Better that than as nest-mate to NightFlyer the Merciless.’

ThunderWing tried a gentler persuasion.
‘My fairest, my wing-love, what of your eyrie? Of the memory of WindSinger your mother? What of your father, good Windlord Strong-Feather? It would drive him to the Crag of Shame where he would moult to his death! Your singer eaglets of the Northern Mountains? Your wingfellows and songfellows? Will they not all grieve?’

SilverSong turned away and wept.
‘All this I know! But they would be lost to me also if I am Night-Flyer’s nest-slave. He is a cruel tyrant, and slew his brother when he was young, deny it if he will! What else do I hope for?’

ThunderWing bowed again. It all seemed hopeless.

Then she shook the tears from her eyes and returned to her defiant stance.
‘But you alone are my hope! I will flee these mountains if NightFlyer reigns. But if you conquer the great peak when your robe and armor is restored to you, then you shall be Windlord! You may choose whom you will. Seek me then, and I will return as your nest-mate!’

ThunderWing took a deep breath at this. He spread his shattered wings, ignoring the pain in his shoulder. Head high, he gave his eyrie’s war-cry:
“Highest heart! Highest flight!”

He settled again before her and bowed the bow of an eagle’s oath-taking.
‘SilverSong the Fair, my wing-love, this I swear by the wings of the sun, by the flight of the moon: I will conquer great Mawharikhan, though it take many moons, many seasons—or die! If I do not fail, I will come and find you wherever you are and make you Reigning Lady of the Mawh’eyri, as you are meet to be. Flee if you must, but let this be a token of our troth.’

He pulled out the last of his old tail-feathers and laid it before her talons. She bowed in return.
‘I accept your token, Windlord ThunderWing the Great, and will keep it in great honour in my eyrie’s nest until the day I must leave. If I flee, look for me in the highest cave of the Wailing Hills above the forest of the West. Even Hauraugh himself fears the haunting song of the Raven Winds there.’

She nibbled at his beak as she prepared to leave.
‘Farewell my wing-love, for the moment. Do not lose heart. I will make song to the Great Spirit-Wind for you.’

‘May the Great Spirit-Wind bear you upward, O SilverSong, fairest, sweetest and bravest of all eyrierë! Farewell!’

A graceful sweep of her wings, and she was gone.

This meeting, and subsequent visits sustained him through all the remaining recovery period. These were not many, for the tradition of the Mawh’eyri frowned upon overt courtship, and she was in demand in the Northern Mountains.