The Mountain and the Eagle

“Would you like to hear another story?” he asked. His eyes glimmered like gold over the radiant fire as he leaned closer to add a few more dry logs.

She looked at him, full of unquenchable youthful curiosity, and without hesitation answered, “Yes!”

Deep darkness had covered all the land on that moonless night, and all of the other clanspeople had long retired to their tents. Only a grandfather and his granddaughter remained, entertaining the campfire with tales of heroes of ages long past.

“This story will be a little different, my little one. This is the story of the earth and the winds, of a bitter rivalry between the clans. It is a story of the Mountain, and the Eagle.”

“Is it a story about our clan, grandpa?”

“Yes, indeed it is. It’s a true story, I’ll have you know. It happened before your parents were even born.”

She leaned closer beside him, for the winds had brought a chill from the south, and soon the Season of Winds would yield to the Season of Frost. He gently wrapped her with his woolen shawl, and he gazed at the fire with a look of concentration. Sadness lingered in the depths of his eyes.

“It was one of those feuds where the origin had been lost, swept away by the tide of history. Both magical clans had their favourite element which remains to this day: the Mountain Clan is known for its earth magic, the Eagle — air magic. The Mountain Clan, they say the forests were seeded by the gods to protect life against the tyranny of the winds. On the other hand, the Eagle Clan says the gods laid the first snows to give purpose to mountains, to let rivers spring from their chilly peaks. Needless to say, these two clans did not get along well when their stories of origin described the others’ element of magic as tyrannical, for the winds, or purposeless, for the mountains.”

“Grandpa, I don’t understand. Why didn’t we get along? Just because someone has a different story, doesn’t mean you can’t get along with them.”

“That is true. And yet, there seems to be a stubborn persistence among clanleaders to not get along with other clanleaders, whatever the reason. Moreover, each clan believed the feud started differently. The Mountains believed that it was because one of the Eagles stole a woman to be his bride, while the Eagles believed that one of the Mountains stole a pair of goats for a feast. But with each generation, the story of the origin of the feud seemed to change, so much so that I truly believe each had forgotten why they harboured anger to each other in the first place.

“It was a cold sunny day, colder than this night. The first snows had made their brief appearance the day before, and so the clans were beginning to brace for the arrival of the Season of Frost, but both weren’t completely prepared for the cold to come. At the base of the Hvajor Mountain was a small patch of Giant’s Finger trees. These trees, let me tell you, are ideal for building cabins against the frost, for firewood, for weapons, and indeed they were prized among both the clans. Over the years, however, they had become sparse and few, and this patch only had a dozen trees that towered over the plains at the base of the mountain. With the Season of Frost fast approaching, both clans had eyed these trees, but it was not certain who owned them. Mount Hvajor is the domain of the Mountains, but the plains were the land of the Eagles. These trees met right at the middle of these two clanlands. And on that cold sunny day, the two clans set off to fell those trees, believing they could quickly chop down the contested trees before the other clan would even know what had happened.”

“They arrived there at the same time, didn’t they grandpa?”

“Now, how would you know that? I don’t recall telling you this story before.”

“I’m just smart one,” she said, grinning ear to ear.

“Well, I bet you don’t know what happened next, little one. The Giant’s Finger trees were deserving of their name; their massive trunks would take half a clan’s effort to chop down with axes, and the bark was tough enough to make shields, or light armour. Eagles had the sharpest axes in the land, cut to an extremely sharp edge with their air magic. Mountains had the most durable axes, forged from iron found in the deep caves of Mount Hvajor.”

“I love the caves! Mommy and Daddy tell me I should never go alone, and that I can get lost in there, but I still sneak my way in when they’re busy with something. Don’t worry grandpa, I don’t go too far, and I always take not one, but two whole torches with me. It’s really pretty in there! There are so many different coloured rocks and the caves go on forever.”

“If your mother ever finds out, you would be in a lot of trouble, my little drop of sunshine. I’ll keep your secret, but let’s go on with the story, shall we?” She nodded. He added more wood to the fire, ensuring their warmth on that chilly night.

“Once the two clans met at the tree site, neither of them wished to make a decisive move, so they camped in their respective territorial clanlands. They brought supplies for tents and huts, food and later more and more members of each clan came to the site. Both clans believed that their strength in numbers, and their sheer tenacity would intimidate the other clan to leave the tree site. Soon enough, all of the clanspeople of the Eagles and Mountains stayed, watching over the trees, but too stubborn and arrogant to talk to each other, each thinking the other as a dishonorable clan. They stayed there even as the first snow of the Season of Frost fell from the skies.

“The Season of Frost began with a cold fury, and the makeshift tents and huts that the clans made, believing them to be temporary as they watched over the trees, were wholly unsuitable for such freezing weather. Both clans were a few hours away from their wooden homes, but neither wished to yield the trees to the other clan. And so they stayed. And then the blizzard came, as if the gods themselves mocked the clans. A few had not survived that freezing, blistering cold night. On the next day, a combination of light wind and snow had enveloped the area with a chilly fog. The clans had started to bury their dead, and I thought I was going to be buried next.”

“Wait, grandpa, you were in the story?” She asked.

“Oops, my tongue slipped. I wanted to save that little reveal for later. Yes, I was there from the very beginning. I told you this story wouldn’t be like the others, but I must tell you, I am no hero, not like those I spoke of earlier. Let’s continue, shall we?

“We had no more food. The cold seeped through my bones, each breath felt like a warm piece of me was escaping, only to be devoured by the freezing air. Soon enough, it felt as if I was being pulled into the earth by some force, and I knew my moment had come. It’s a very peculiar feeling; this is why I stress that you must keep warm during cold nights! I wouldn’t want you to end up like me on that day. Once you become very cold, and very hungry, the feeling of dying is like falling into a deep sleep, and you feel calm. This strange feeling, of being calm and accepting of your fate, is why it is so dangerous. Always stay warm, little one.

“I remember then, looking out at the opening in my small tent, all I could see was a grey fog, and darkness was starting to eat at my vision. And then I saw her. You must understand that over the few weeks we had camped there, we got to know each other’s faces, our two clans. I knew this young woman was from the Eagles, but I couldn’t muster the strength to call for help. I soon learned I didn’t need to. She was the angel that brought me back from a snowy grave. She had brought some food to share with me. Food on the mountain was scarce, especially if you’re not moving. But in the plains, you could find a bit more food here and there. They must have had access to a river or wetlands, as she brought cat tail stalks for me to eat, an act of generosity that likely never yet occurred between our feuding clans.”

“What’s a cat tail stalk? Did the Eagles eat cats?”

“No, my child!” he said, laughing. “That’s true; you must have never seen a cat tail stalk before. They’re plants that grow near water — they have big fluffy heads that the Eagle clan uses for fire. The stalks, although tough to eat, can stave off hunger if you desperately need food. A lifesaving plant, in my case.

“I chewed the crunchy stalks, and I felt the life returning to me with the breaths that I thought were my last. I will never forget her. The cover of the fog was what allowed her to come into my tent unseen, you know. She was smart, but she took a risk to come save me. Before she left my tent, she gave me a great big hug. I don’t know which act truly saved me, the cat tail stalks or the hug.”

“How could a hug save you more than food, grandpa? You’re silly!”

He looked at her with a pensive gaze, and smiled. “Sometimes silly things are exactly what we need, little one.”

“And what happened next, grandpa?”

“When the fog lifted, mind you I was in a better condition now and also recall it being warmer, the clans finally met to discuss this whole ordeal by the trees. It wasn’t pretty.

“Our clansleader at the time started by stating that the Eagles wanted to steal the trees that belonged to the Mountains just as they had stolen our women in some forgotten past. The Eagle clansleader quickly replied by saying that our clan had also stolen brides, but instead of women, he said our clan fancied goats. Anyway, the exchange that followed is not for your little ears, but let me tell you it became very heated, and very tense. Our clansleader slammed his foot into the ground, magically driving a large pillar of earth up into the air and held it there, threatening the Eagle clansleader. The Eagles readied themselves, and soon the winds began to shift around us, and circled violently. We were in the eye of a magical tempest. In any moment, bloodshed would occur, especially considering that the full might of each clan was present to do battle. And then I stepped in and called a stop to this madness.

“I started by saying that a young woman from the Eagle clan came to my tent, and offered me unprecedented generosity.”

“What does un-pres-dent-id mean?” she asked as she rubbed her eyes. She struggled to pronounce the word.

“Something that has never happened before, young one. I continued telling the two clans that without this act of kindness, I would have surely joined the dead. I told them I don’t know why she did it, considering our state of feud, but I said that this did not need to end in violence. We staked to lose more than a few trees if we fought each other. The dead would litter both the plains and the mountain side, and there would be no one left to harvest the trees. I urged the two leaders to stop channelling their magic, to lower the pillar of earth and to cease the tempest.

“They looked at me, and to my surprise, the tempest slowly stopped, and my leader slowly lowered the slab of earth and stone to the ground. They looked at me, both leaders of the two mighty clans, and waited for me to speak. It was a strange feeling to be at the center of their attention.

“I proposed that we work together to cut these Giant’s Fingers, as the frost was already upon us, and the situation had become dire. We could return back to our wooden homes, but we had both brought most of our food and firewood here, and supplies were quickly running out. And then, who would decide who is to go home, and who stayed and takes the trees? When I had said that, all of the clanspeople present had started to speak, and a strong chatter erupted, trying to justify why the other clan should leave, and theirs stay.

“That’s when I said that we should both use our magic to cut these powerful trees down, and use it to build a large wooden cabin, right there. Whatever the feud was in the past, it had no more meaning then, I told them. No one remembered what the origin of the feud was, each generation had its own interpretation, and both of our clans stood on the brink of ruin. And yet, an act of kindness still emerged where kindness was thought to be extinct. I proposed to them that we should call this cabin “The Mountain and the Eagle”, and may it end our feud, and ensure our mutual survival in this cold Season of Frost. And then, and I remember recalling how ridiculous this whole situation sounded, but it was true that if we fought, we would have died, and if we had returned home we would have lost many people to the cold and to hunger, all over a handful of trees. If we combined our efforts, I said, then we would survive.”

The little girl had started to nod off to sleep, for it was getting quite late, even for her. The old man picked her up with a torch in hand grabbed from the fire, and carried her off to the tent of her parents. As he entered the tent, his granddaughter whispered through her sleepy condition, “did everyone end up okay, grandpa?”

“Yes, one day I’ll take you to see the cabin for yourself, sunshine.” As he laid her onto her cot, she asked one more question.

“What was the name of the woman who saved you, grandpa?”

He kissed her forehead, and gently said, “You knew her quite well. She was your grandmother, my love, and the mother of your father. Sleep well, little one.” The little girl smiled, and quickly left for the land of dreams.

MECabin


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