AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
When she finally reached the bottom of the butte, Daidam found the end of the path blocked by a field of bones that stretched along the base of the butte for as far as she could see.
“Why have you come down from your esteemed butte?”
Daidam looked to see who had spoken. She saw no one.
“Can you not speak?”
She peered across the bone pile to the forest. The trees stood close together with their thick canopies casting deep shadows. “Aye. But I see none to speak with.” Slowly, a shape took form next to the trunk of one of the larger trees. “What sort of being are you?” Daidam asked when the creature walked into the daylight, not on two legs but four. She grasped her spear firmly as she held it out in front of her.
“I am Coyote,” the animal said as he sat back on his haunches. He cocked his head and studied Daidam. “Do you not know of my kind, two-legged?”
“We know not of the Abyss.”
“This land,” Daidam said sweeping her arm to indicate where they stood and beyond.
The hair on Coyote’s neck bristled. “This is not an abyss. This is the Realm of Airini. You would do well to speak the name with respect.”
“Airini? The name is not known to my ears.”
Coyote lifted a front paw and scratched under his chin. “Sadly, I am not surprised by your declaration. Go back, two-legged. Return to your butte.”
“I cannot. I must find Father. And Milas.”
“There are none of your kind in Airini, two-legged.”
“Why do you call me two-legged? I am Daidam of the House of Alasdair, Protectors of the Realm of Arhdahl. You would do well to speak my name with respect.”
Coyote laughed. “Respect does not come so cheaply, two-legged. Arhdahl means nothing to me but home to those who caused these bones to rest here.”
“I have not time for you,” Daidam said, stepping forward. The loud crack of a breaking bone froze her in place.
Coyote jumped to his feet, his lip curling as he let loose a threatening snarl. “You dare dishonor the sacred bones of the Winged! Fool! Go back!”
“Not without my Father and Milas.” Daidam raised her foot to take another step.
“No! Do not dishonor the Winged.”
Daidam continued and heard another bone snap beneath her foot. Before she could take a third step, a whirlwind arose from the bones and she was lifted off the ground and carried backward until she collided with cliff. The force of the blow knocked the air from her lungs and she collapsed to the ground.
Coyote settled back on his haunches. “You are a fool,” he said when Daidam sat up gasping for breath.
She reached up to rub her shoulder. “I am not,” she said as she struggled back to her feet. On shaky legs, she walked to where her spear lay on the ground and bent down. But instead of picking up the spear, she gently lifted one of the bones. She found it to be delicate and hollow, unlike the heavier and solid bones she knew to be in her own body. She placed it back with the others then picked up one of the strange objects she saw interspersed with the bones—it was long and slender with thin hair-like threads growing from their spines. “The Winged,” she whispered as she examined the feather.
“So you have heard.”
“Once. When I was young.”
Coyote laughed. “You are but a pup now, two-legged.” Daidam’s glare only served to make him laugh louder. “Tell me, two-legged, what did you hear?”
“What about them?”
“Only their name. It was whispered between two Protectors late one night when the wind blew up the sides of the butte making sounds as if it be more than just wind.” Coyote nodded knowingly. “Who are they? The Winged?”
Coyote sighed. “They are no more. But there was a time when they floated on the wind over Airini. They lived on the cliffs, raising young in the crevasses and caves.”
“What happened to them?”
Coyote thought for a moment. “Do you not know how the two-leggeds came to live on the butte?”
“What do you mean?”
“Go back. Ask your elders what became of the Winged. It is not a story for me to tell.” Coyote stood and stretched his back then turned away from Daidam.
“Wait. Please. I must know of my father. And of Milas.”
Coyote turned back. “What of them?”
“They fell. I must find them.”
“Fell? From up there?” Coyote asked, looking up to the top of the butte. “None but the Winged could survive such a fall.”
“Go back. You have no place in Airhini.”
Daidam tentatively moved toward the pile of bones but stopped when a sudden gust of wind blew against her. Dejectedly, she turned around and returned to the foot of the butte. She walked toward the path but was startled to discover it no longer existed. “Wait,” she called to Coyote who was entering the forest. “Where did it go?”
Coyote looked back over his shoulder to see Daidam shuffling along the rock face, her hands searching for the missing gap in the stone. He turned and trotted back toward her. “What of the path that led you here?”
“Speak not,” Daidam cried in frustration, “less you offer help.”
“Very well,” Coyote said and turned back for the forest.
“Don’t go. Please.” Daidam’s shoulders sagged as she spoke. “I intrude into your land not to dishonor. I seek only to return my father to Alasdair Fortress. To my mother and brother who moan him. And Milas to her mother, Thoralf, who cries her loss.”
Coyote sighed then trotted back to stand opposite Daidam. “You ask much.”
“But the bones…”
“There,” Coyote gestured with his head and Daidam looked to see a series of rocks stretching from one side of the bone field to the other. “The stones rise above the Winged. Step cautiously.” Daidam followed Coyote’s instructions, carefully placing her boots in the center of each stone so as not to chance touching any of the bones that surrounded them. She did not dare to breathe until she stood beside Coyote. “Let us go,” Coyote said then he led her into the forest.
Continued in Chapter Five
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