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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 17
Lorelei's Shame

As you already know, I was born into the Abeytu tribe. It means Greenleaf and it’s a very large and powerful tribe. My father, Crowsotarri, or Wind in His Hair, was a great chieftain who loved to roam the land by himself during springtime. He met my mother, Lawana, while on one of his journeys as a young man. She was from the Adah tribe. Her name is a strange one, meaning Brings to Completion. Her mother, who had her late in life, died in childbirth, naming her with her last breath.

Father had recently begun following the Lord of Light and thought her name was a good omen, so he asked for her hand in marriage. The Adah tribe was mostly small and ornamental so they considered uniting with a large tribe like ours to be a smart match. They agreed at once, and father and mother were soon wed.

I was born ten years later on Mid-Summer’s Eve, on the exact same day Storm was brought into our world from Elder Earth.

During the ten years before I was born, there was a rift in our tribe between those who followed the Lord of Light and those who followed Adrammelech. From a tiny spark, it grew and spread so much that we were nearly divided into two different tribes. Those who followed the Lord of Light were called Minninnewah which means whirlwind, while those who followed Adrammelech were called Namida or star dancer. My father was chieftain of the Minninnewah half of the tribe and an old, old man named Aranck, the grandfather of Menewa, led the other half, the Namida.

Menewa was rightly named. His name means Great Warrior, and Menewa is a powerful man, stronger and faster than any other in the Abeytu. He has never been defeated in battle or lost any contest of strength. He was twenty years old when I was born and even then everyone was talking about how he was beginning to live up to his mighty name. Five years later when Aranck died, Menewa became chieftain of the Namida.

When I was born, Gaagii the shaman of Adrammelech came to the birthing tent, as did Hania the priest of the Lord of Light. Among the Biqah, the shaman or priest has the privilege of naming those born into the tribe. Only if they decline does the right pass to the parents. That night Gaagii outran Hania and arrived first. Because I was born on Mid-Summer’s Eve he was determined to be the one to name me, to make me a great priestess of the old ways, of Adrammelech. He named me Lorelei, a name from the Old Tongue which as you already know means Child of Heaven.

But Hania was not to be thwarted. He intoned a prophecy over me, a prophecy which created the conditions which eventually tore our tribe apart. Storm has heard it before but it goes like this:

Child of Heaven,
Child of Light,
With Power Great,
and Soul So Bright.
One She Will Meet,
The Man of Might,
Evil Ones Defeat,
By Force of Right.

Gaagii was furious at Hania for twisting the name he’d given me into a prophecy for the Lord of Light. He accused Hania of blasphemy and heresy. The two men fought using their priestly powers and nearly killed each other. They survived but just barely. Hania is still lame to this day because of their fight. He can only walk with the aid of a staff, and Gaagii was wounded as well. The left side of his face was burned, his left eye melted out of the socket, and his throat torn so badly he now croaks like the raven he was named for.

The Namida immediately declared that Menewa was the man of might since his very name meant Great Warrior, and decided he would be the one to marry me when I came of age. Even most of the Minninnewah believed it. Most of them had only recently converted to following the Lord of Light and the old habits died hard.

Of course I heard it the whole time I was growing up; I was destined to marry him, the man of might from the prophecy. But strange as it might sound, no one ever told me what the prophecy actually said, just that he was the man of might from it and it was prophesied the night I was born that one day I would marry him.

So I grew up believing it. Why wouldn’t I? Everyone told me the same thing over and over again my whole life. It was like saying the sun is bright or snow is cold; it was obvious. It never once occurred to me to question it.

As a child I was in awe of him. He was this legendary warrior, this great unstoppable hero everyone loved and adored. He was tall and handsome; when he smiled it lit up the world. He had this incredible deep voice like thick syrup that made you feel warm all over. Now and then he had a hard edge to him, but what warrior doesn’t?

I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world to be fated to marry a man as wonderful as him. He was every girl’s dream come true.

But while I waited to grow up and marry him I practiced with my bow, and everyone who saw me shoot agreed I was definitely a child of heaven because I learned it so quickly and so well. It was a gift given to me by the gods, and I put it to good use. Archery became my favorite pastime. I spent hours with the greatest archers of our tribe, one of whom was Menewa. The older he grew the better he got until finally the day came when no one could best him with the bow.

But I could.

Except for one other time, I’ve never told anyone what I’m about to tell you now, but every day after he finished practicing I would sneak over and use his target, measuring where my arrows struck in comparison to his. By the time I was ten I was his equal and by the time I came of age at eighteen I could beat his score every time, without fail. You wouldn’t believe how proud it made me; I could beat the great Menewa!

But I didn’t tell anyone because years earlier, when I was thirteen, I finally heard the full prophecy, and it was hearing the prophecy for the first that made me want to beat him.

My mother and I were out walking along the river one day. We were talking about nothing in particular when I suddenly asked her to tell me the prophecy.

She laughed at me, saying I’d heard the prophecy all my life, but I managed to convince her that while I knew about the prophecy, I’d never actually heard it before.

So, she told me.

It was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had. I’d never heard the prophecy before, but soon as the words left her mouth I felt as if I’d known them my whole life. It was if I was hearing an old, forgotten tale from childhood; it was instantly familiar. As she spoke, every word burned itself into my mind forever. I knew I couldn’t forget it even if I tried.

Mother finished by saying, “And we’ve always known Menewa is the man of might.”

Outwardly, mother followed the Lord of Light because father did, but in her heart she still followed Adrammelech so to her it was only natural to assume that Menewa was the man the prophecy spoke of. He was the greatest warrior our tribe had seen in generations. Of course he had to be the one.

But as soon as she said it, something inside me rebelled on the spot and I blurted out, “No he’s not. I’ll never marry him!” The vehemence of my words surprised me even as I said them.

Mother couldn’t have been more shocked if I’d said the sky was green.

The argument began right away and got worse with each passing moment. She kept saying I was too young to know what I was talking about and I kept telling her I knew exactly what I meant. We went around and around but neither of us could convince the other. I wouldn’t listen to her, I couldn’t; something in my heart kept telling me the prophecy specifically said, “One she will meet,” meaning future tense, someone I hadn’t met yet, and I’d definitely already met Menewa. I tried to explain it to her but she wouldn’t listen.

Finally she ordered me to be quiet about it and say nothing to anyone.

When we got home I tried to talk to father about it but she kept interrupting, and the way she did it made it seem as if I was simply being a brat. Father finally told me to sit down, shut up, and listen to my mother or he’d punish me until I did.

So I sat down and shut my mouth. I didn’t have any choice.

She could make me shut up but she couldn’t change my mind.

That’s when I began practicing full-time with my bow, partly to take my mind off it because I was so angry, partly because I enjoyed it, and partly because I wanted to show father and her and all of them that I didn’t have to marry Menewa.

So I started trying to beat Menewa at archery; deliberately trying to beat him. In a single afternoon I went from respecting and loving him to hating him with all my heart and soul. I wanted to crush him, humiliate, and utterly destroy him. I wanted it so bad I could taste it.

For the next five years I practiced day and night, pulling the bowstring for hours on end until my fingers bled. I practiced in the dark, firing by ear toward any sound. I practiced in rain and sleet and hail and wind. I practiced until I dreamed about practicing. I’m a child of heaven, with power I didn’t know I had until I tried to use it and once I did, I never missed.


Along the way I grew up. When I looked in the mirror or at my reflection in the water I knew I had become beautiful. I’m not being vain; I just knew what I looked like – and I knew how men reacted around beautiful women. I saw it all the time when they got tongue tied talking to me or other pretty women. I knew what our appearance could do to them, the power we had over them. I understood how easily we could hurt them. And I was happy about it because one day I was determined I was going to use it against Menewa.

That’s how vicious and brutal I’d become, how thoughtless and careless my anger made me. I look back at myself now and I want to cringe at how horrible I was.

So I waited and planned, biding my time to find the perfect opportunity to humiliate Menewa in the worst way I possibly could. My patience finally paid off when my chance came the summer I turned 18.

We were at a summer festival, one of those where dozens of tribes would gather to trade with one another, as well as with the barbarian clans from the Ramparts. We struck bargains, made treaties, arraigned weddings and celebrated them, held naming ceremonies, and of course, competed with each other for prizes, honor, and glory.

The festival encampment stretched for leagues in every direction because it wasn’t just tribes and clans attending; it was also one of the great festivals where caravans from every corner of Gaia came to ply their trade and sell their wares. Every kind of merchant and tinker set up shop on the prairie, bards laid dance floors and stages for performances of all kinds, and of course endless casks of ale, wine, brandy, whiskey, every drink in the world was offered; from the backs of wagons to full taverns in giant tents complete with trestle tables thrown up for the two weeks of the festival.

Menewa was in heaven with all the contests of strength and valor. He loved to compete, and no wonder! He won every competition he entered. The last competition was the archery contest on the final day of the festival.

Everyone was there. Men competed against the men and women against the women. It was wonderful, loud, packed with more people in one place than you can imagine, and Menewa was the center of attention. He racked up scores no one had ever seen before; he had the whole crowd cheering him, even from other tribes.

Then, just when they were about to declare him the winner, I challenged him.

The crowd laughed at me and said women couldn’t compete against men. I knew they’d say that, so as soon as they did I fired an arrow toward his last target. His arrow was just a shade off of dead center, but mine hit dead center, shaving off part of the side of his when it hit.

Everything stopped. There was this sudden silence so huge you could hear the grass moving in the breeze. Everyone was staring at the target then at me, then at him. No one knew what to say. Neither did I.

So I laughed at him.

In front of thousands of Biqah and barbarians from dozens of tribes and clans, in that dead quiet where any noise could carry forever, I laughed at him clear as a bell.

I did it deliberately, on purpose, knowing exactly how much it would hurt his pride.

I laughed at him.

For a moment I thought he was going to kill me. If looks could kill, I would have been dead right then. But instead he just said, “One lucky shot does not a warrior make, little girl. Set up a new target!”

The judges tried to protest but he wouldn’t listen. He kept ordering them to set up a new target until finally they gave in.

Behind me, my father and mother were staring at me in shock. When I looked their way mother was white as the clouds in the sky and father tried to beckon me over, tried to tell me to stop it. To my shame, I didn’t listen. I knew what I was doing was wrong but I had so much anger built up over the years about him and the prophecy, I’d waited so long for my revenge that I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t!

The judges set up new targets and we took turns. On each round Menewa fired first. They were good shots, some of the best of the entire festival. I beat him though. Every shot, arrow for arrow, I beat him every time because of my gift.

But I did more than just beat him. I humiliated him.

Every arrow he pulled, he aimed slow and deliberate, being careful to use all his skill on each shot.

I didn’t.

I made it look careless, as if I wasn’t even trying. I didn’t pause or take my time aiming. I knocked, pulled, and released all in one motion, the way I’d been training all those years. I took advantage of being a child of heaven, using my gift, my god-given talent to exact revenge on a man who’d never harmed me.

I made beating him look like the easiest thing in the world.

On his last arrow I could see his arm trembling from tension and anger, trying to get that one, single, perfect shot . . . and he made it; a perfect bulls eye.

The crowd had been deathly silent until then, sharing in his humiliation and wounded pride, but they broke into a roar that shook the ground when he made that shot. It was a perfect shot and they knew it. He knew it. He turned and grinned triumphantly at me, confident there was no way I could do better than perfect, confident he’d redeemed himself in front of all those thousands of spectators and won the match.

I didn’t look at the target. I didn’t even glance at it. I kept my eyes fixed on his as I drew and loosed. I don’t have any excuse, I knew exactly what I was doing, using a divine gift to hurt a good man just because I didn’t want to marry him.

My arrow split his right down the middle; perfect on perfect.

Part of his soul withered and died when he realized what I’d done. I watched it happen, I saw it in his eyes. If there’s ever a sight I never want to see again, it’s what I saw in his eyes that day. It was horrible, unconscionable, beyond forgiveness.

Right away I wanted to cry out, to take it back, but it was too late.

He dropped his bow and walked away. He’s never touched another one since. The Biqah are archers. It’s what we do, it’s who we are. But not Menewa, not any more.

In that instant I destroyed a good man and turned him into a soulless monster. If there’s any evil in him, any darkness in his soul, it’s because I created it, I put it there.

From that day on the division in our tribe became permanent. Worse, even the Minninnewah shunned me for way I’d abused my gift. I tried to apologize, tried to atone for it, but they didn’t listen. They refused to speak to me or pay attention to me. It was as if I’d become a ghost they couldn’t see or hear.

Mother didn’t want to hear my excuses either, didn’t care about my tears. What I’d done wounded her beyond healing. She laid down in her tent, stopped eating and drinking, stopped talking or listening, stopped caring, stopped living. She laid down and died. It took weeks for her to die, and when she finally quit breathing the smell in her tent was beyond horrible. It was so bad no one could go in there so it was burned to the ground with her body inside.

If it wasn’t for my father I’d have gone mad. He was the only one who forgave me. It took him several years though. He brought in food and water, let me prepare it for him, ate it, and handed the remains back to me, but he couldn’t bring himself to look at me for the longest time. It wasn’t until he had a long discussion with Lamriack, a high priest of the Lord of Light, the one we were supposed to see in Robling, that he began to treat me as anything more than a faceless servant.

One day he came in to eat but instead of taking the food he took my hand. He looked at me and started to say something but instead he broke into tears. He pulled me into his arms and held me, both of us crying our eyes out for the longest time. Afterwards he didn’t say anything, just ate his food and left.

But right before he left the tent he paused for a moment, then said over his shoulder, “Good night, Lorelei,” and hurried out.

I think I cried all night that night. It was the first time in two years anyone had spoken to me.

It gradually got better after that. He started meeting my eyes again, we began to make small talk about the weather or the food. Little by little he started having me accompany him here and there. The others were forced to at least notice me, then bit by bit they opened up and over the next two years it slowly spread throughout the Minninnewah, but the Namida still refused to acknowledge my existence.

A year before my father’s death, he stood me before the council fires and I apologized to all of them for what I’d done. I confessed and told the Elders everything, from the moment I heard the prophecy for the first time up until the day it happened. That was the only other time before today that I told anyone what happened, and I told them everything, just like I’m telling you.

It was a long meeting. They argued and debated for hours while I stood there like a statue waiting for their decision. Eventually when the Elders voted it was a tie, the Minninnewah against the Namida, and father, being the leading chieftain, had to cast the deciding vote.

He voted to forgive me.

Menewa was outraged. He shouted that my father had blasphemed all the gods by allowing a betrayer like me to walk among them. He said what I’d done with my gift was beyond forgiveness. Father tried to reason with Menewa that I still had the gift so perhaps the gods weren’t done with me after all, that I could still find the man of might and fulfill the prophecy.

It was the wrong thing to say.

I think father knew it as soon as he said it – I told you we all said and did things we shouldn’t have – but again, it was too late; the damage was done. The Namida were on their feet yelling that Menewa was the man in the prophecy, but it was my betrayal of the gods that revoked it and divided our tribe. The Minninnewah were on their feet yelling back, then those outside the council lodge heard the noise and came running in to help but they only made it worse.

Before long someone pulled a knife, blood was spilled, and suddenly there was an all out war in the camp. By dawn nearly a hundred of our people from both factions were dead and over twice as many were wounded.

Everyone was horrified by what happened, but anger dies hard if it dies at all, and dozens of blood feuds were started that night, started and sworn to with solemn, unbreakable vows. Father spent the next year trying to repair the split that tore us apart that night.

He finally arraigned what he thought would a peace pact with Menewa. They agreed to meet at a neutral location to hammer out the details. I had a bad feeling about it the moment father told me about it. All his advisers felt the same. We urged him not to go.

One of father’s childhood friends, Klah, had split with him years before when father decided to follow the Lord of Light. For years they barely spoke. Then after the war in the tribe started, Klah realized the error of his ways, left Adrammelech, and turned to the Lord of Light. He came to father and apologized for all the years they’d been apart. Soon he became one of father’s closest advisers but even he couldn’t keep father from going to the meeting. Father was a stubborn man, the more you tried to keep him from doing something the more determined he was to do it. We all knew it but we had to try anyway, even if we knew it wouldn’t do any good.

Before he left, father warned me if anything should happen to him I was to leave the tribe and seek out a man from one of the barbarian clans, by the name of Storm of the Bear Clan. He said you were the only man strong enough to stand up to Menewa and avenge his death. He gave me directions on how to find you, then kissed me, and left for the meeting.

It was the last time I ever saw him alive.

In the middle of the night Klah came running through the camp screaming that Crowsotarri had been murdered. We followed him and found father’s body lying on the ground full of arrows. Everyone recognized them – they were the arrows I’d used the day I humiliated Menewa. My actions had come full circle and now father was dead because of me. No one believed I’d killed him, but the message was clear – I was to blame.

The next morning the whole tribe gathered together as one to mourn my father. His death had shocked them back to their senses and all of them agreed to put aside the blood feuds before they went any further. But no one, not one single person, wanted to know who killed my father. It was like this huge blind spot where no one could see. Even I didn’t ask or wonder.

Then Menewa stood up and denounced me as the cause of all the bloodshed, death, and division that wracked the tribe. He claimed it was my actions that set everything in motion. I couldn’t deny it and everyone knew it. He demanded I be banished, on pain of death if I ever returned.

The Elders from both sides had to vote that night around the council fires, but there was never any doubt how it would turn out. They declared me dead to the Abeytu and banished me. If I ever dared to return, anyone who saw me was free to kill me without warning or mercy.

I was given my horse and what few belongings I had left, then they told me to leave and never come back. They wouldn’t even let me stay long enough to bury my father. I didn’t try to argue, I just rode out while I could, but the moment I was out of sight I hid.

Watching from the brush, I followed them to where they buried him. I waited until everyone was gone and the moon was halfway across the sky before I slipped out of hiding and went to his grave. Spring was just beginning and it was cold but I cried myself to sleep there on the ground.

As I slept, I dreamed I was standing before him once more before he left for his ill-fated meeting. Once again he asked me to find you and have you avenge him. When I awoke just before dawn I was holding a beaver tooth strung on a braid of my hair – the first present I’d ever given him when I was just a child. He’d worn it on his wrist his whole his life; he never took it off, so I knew it was a sign my dream was no ordinary dream and I rode out at once before anyone came back.

It took me months to find you and the rest you know.

* * * * *

Lorelei lapsed into silence staring into the dying fire, embers floating up into the starry sky overhead. “And now you know my shame,” she finished brokenly.

Storm found himself remembering one of the Psalms he’d been forced to memorize in Sunday School – The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands. Lorelei had pulled down more than merely a house and she’d paid a steep price for it. He exchanged sad looks with Ralt and Durin. They nodded at him then rose silently and went to their tents. Storm pulled her in close. “I love you, Lorelei,” he whispered, “I love you with all my heart, now and forever.”

She sobbed once, huge and unbidden, then buried her face in his chest, crying quietly. They sat there for a long, long time as the stars slowly wheeled around the heavens above them.

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