The proudest and noblest of all were the Windlords, a select few eagle-warriors and champions who had learned how to conquer the great summit, Mawharikhan, or Monarch of Mountains.
The eagle-warrior that became strong enough and skilled enough to fly over that formidable mountain became the chief of all the Eyri of the Mawh’eyri for one change of the moon. He was the Reigning Windlord. It gave him the right to choose his own nest-mate, build his own eyrie-palace, command all the war-bands and eat the choicest foods. It also meant holding a place on the Windlords’ Council for life.
He wore a cunningly-woven collar of vines and branchlets, studded with gemstones. All his subjects bowed down to him wherever he went. The first ancient necklace, the Khanirhidhi, or Stones-of-the-Sun, had been worn by the first great king of the Mawh’eyri. It was said to have been lost or hidden during the first great wars with the Wild Eagles, who claimed it as their own. So the Windlords fashioned the Reigning Windlord’s crown-necklace, the Khanir, a gem-studded collar. It was awaiting its next claimant at the cave of Windlord’s Crag.
It was also said that a special breath of favour was given to the conqueror of the mountain by the great Spirit-Wind, whom all tribes of the Eyri serve. Some successful claimants had been known to prophesy or speak great words of wisdom in that period of the great Spirit-Wind’s favour. It was the dream of every young warrior of the Mawh’eyri to become Reigning Windlord, maybe for life, if they could find and retrieve any of the mysterious Stones-of-the-Sun.
The Windlords skilled in ancient lore said that these came with the Fathers of the Mawh’eyri when the land of Mawha was first settled. They were lost or hidden, they said, during a great war with the Wild Eagles, who claimed the stones as their own. But when asked from whence the stones first came, the wisest of the wise fell silent or confessed ignorance.
Sadly, some warriors paid the ultimate price in their attempt upon the great summit. As if the height was not enough with the thinner air and unpredictable winds, an even more terrifying danger lurked in the dark caves near the mountain’s summit: Mawharikhὺn, the Demon-Storm, the scourge of the Central Mountains.
Nonetheless, that did not daunt many of the young warriors.
StrongHand, son of Windlord HighSoarer, was not one of those who aspired to that title. He freely proclaimed himself a hunter, not a warrior. He refused to endure the initiation rites into warrior status that his more intrepid younger brother went through.
StrongHand wiped his beak from his seventh meal for that day and looked up as a young, lean warrior eagle alighted on the main ledge of the eyrie.
The two brothers surveyed each other for a moment with affection mixed with a little contempt. They certainly made a striking contrast. The elder was solidly built and immensely strong. The younger, although almost as strong, was more streamlined, well-shaped and swifter in his movements. Both had the same genial and alert comportment that characterized the sons of HighSoarer the Great, but the younger displayed a restlessness and impulsiveness quite foreign to his brother’s tranquil nature.
‘Hail, brother, elder son of HighSoarer the Great!’ the young warrior bowed mockingly.
‘I trust you and your band of hunters have supped well?’
‘Hail, ThunderWing, youngest son of the great HighSoarer, champion of the games of idle warriors!’ his brother retorted in derisive formality, not even bothering to bow. ‘Do you wish to join the feast?’ He heaved one of the carcasses toward his sibling.
‘I have eaten as much as a warrior allows himself,’ replied ThunderWing disdainfully, turning his back on the offering at his feet. ‘Yet I thank you. I must bear as little weight as I may in my ascent of great Mawharikhan.’
StrongHand looked up again at his younger brother, and snorted derisively.
‘You are too young to join the ranks of the Windlords, brother! Your success has deceived you. True, you are Mawharhipi, Swiftest in the Mountains before your time. But that alone is not enough to win you that greater honour. Many seasons and many hunts will it take for you to rise to our father’s place.’
ThunderWing sat at the edge of the eyrie, gazing toward the ghostly white mountain that pierced the clouds on the horizon. He turned his head a little.
‘Are you jealous, brother? I counsel you to eat less and fly more. Then you will be as strong as I.’
StrongHand’s talon squeezed tighter on his meat, his neck feathers ruffling up.
‘Were you not too swift for me, I would grasp your tail feathers and tear them out, little eaglet! Well have you been named by WeatherWing the Seer, for you bring more trouble than all the storms of Mawharikhan’s peak. Stronger in flight you may be, but you are the lesser hunter. Further have I flown than you. I do not waste my time on those tournaments and games of warcraft that you young warriors delight in. I am proud to be chief of the hunters, whatever our traditions may say of us. More hares have I captured than all the Mawh’eyri hunters in the mountains! More fruits and herbs have I supplied to the eyries than any other. For what else do we live?’
‘I allow that you give worthy service to our wingfolk, but I live for the honour of our eyrie, brother,’ answered ThunderWing, his feathers completely unruffled. ‘And to win the favour and the right to nest-mate SilverSong the Fair. Yet I could worst you in the hunt if I chose to do so. But no! It is my destiny to follow my father’s path, to soar over Mawharikhan, and to defy the black demon-storm. None shall turn me from it!’