After discussing it, they decided Storm should cross the Bridge of the Gods on foot while Lorelei trailed behind unseen with their mounts. When he met someone from the Abeytu, he’d pretend to be looking for Crowsotarri, as if he didn’t know about his death. From there, they’d play it by ear.
He slung his pack on his back to give the appearance of someone traveling by foot. His clothes and boots, new when he got them in Zered, were now worn and scuffed. Only a detailed examination would prove they hadn’t been walked in for all the hundreds of leagues between there and here.
When they found the Bridge of the Gods, it was even more awe-inspiring than the artist’s conception picture he’d seen in that long-ago restaurant in Oregon. The wide arch was composed of solid rock but the top was covered by soil with trees, bushes, and prairie grass growing on it. It was hard to judge but Storm figured the arch was about the width of two football fields laid end-to-end. Walking along the center of it where he couldn’t see the edge, it was easy to imagine he was on any ordinary piece of ground. It was only when he got near the edge, close enough to see the Wolfhead River far below, that the true nature of the arch revealed itself.
“Watch that first step,” he told himself. “It’s a doozy.”
He occasionally glanced behind him but naturally didn’t see anything. Like him, Lorelei was too accomplished a tracker to let herself be seen. How she managed to keep their pegasi silent and hidden at the same time was beyond him but as long as she did, he was happy. He continued striding along as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He kept a hand on his sword as any normal traveler would but aside from that he appeared quite at ease.
Some parts of the forest on the bridge were quite thick. He emerged from one such thicket near the eastern side of the river and suddenly found himself confronting a mounted Abeytu warrior a dozen yards away.
He and the warrior both paused tensely as they looked each other over.
The man looked to be somewhat shorter than him, muscular and healthy. His long black hair was held back by a colorful band of beaded leather. He wore leather pants and high riding boots. He was bare-chested but for the straps holding a quiver of arrows to his back. There was a knife in a sheath at his waist and a long, recurve bow in his hand. He sat comfortably on a sandy-colored mare, riding her bareback and controlling her with pressure from his knees, the reins laid casually across her neck.
After watching each other for a long moment, Storm concluded he wasn’t in any immediate danger. He straightened up slightly. “I come in peace, looking for my blood brother, Crowsotarri of the Abeytu tribe. Show me the way to them and I will go in peace.”
The man eyed him thoughtfully. “You have found the Abeytu but Crowsotarri died over a year ago, betrayed by his only daughter.”
Storm straightened to his full height in pretended surprise. “What happened?”
The man shrugged faintly. “We do not speak her name because her crime was so great. She not only betrayed her father, she betrayed all of us. When his body was found, it was full of her own arrows.” He cocked his head, relaxing as he took in Storm’s wild appearance. “Fair skies and green grasses, barbarian. Which Clan are you from?”
Once a Biqah extended their normal greeting, it was incumbent on the person they greeted to introduce themselves. Storm watched him carefully. “I’m Storm of the Bear Clan.”
The effect on the man was electric. His eyes shot wide. “The enemy of Adrammelech!” he hissed in shock. He grabbed the reins and wheeled his horse around, then kicked her into a wild gallop. He began shouting a warning before he was out of sight.
Storm cursed feelingly. He pulled back just inside the trees and dropped his pack. They would give him some shelter, depending on how many warriors the man brought back. He drew his swords in preparation for battle.
He felt Lorelei’s presence behind him an instant before he heard her whispered voice. “Let me know when or if you want me to come out.”
He nodded without taking his eyes from the shore where the man had disappeared. He could hear a rising commotion just out of sight. “Do you know who that was?”
“I was too far away to tell but his headband marked him as one of the Namida who still worship Adrammelech. Menewa is their chief.”
Storm remembered her story. He saw warriors coming into view. “It looks like I’m about to meet him.”
Lorelei gasped. “There he is! The one in the middle.”
At first glance, Menewa didn’t look much different from the first man Storm had met; long black hair held back with a beaded headband, leather pants, and high riding boots. He had a long sheath knife on his hip and a barbed spear in his hand. Feathers were tied to the spear near the head and several more hung from his headband. He wore wide leather bands on his biceps. They were covered in beaded patterns. On the trail or in combat, the Biqah wore their famous crysmeir armor but in camp they dispensed with it. He was bare above the waist except for a wide beaded band around his neck. It lay flat on his upper chest.
It was his eyes that caught Storm’s attention though. Lorelei said she’d seen the life go out of Menewa’s eyes the day she beat him at the festival. It didn’t look as if it had ever come back. His eyes were hard, flat, soulless, and empty, like the button eyes of a doll. He was tall and handsome but his lifeless eyes made him look like a mannequin. They made him ugly.
Apart from Menewa and his warriors was another chief with his own warriors. Although dressed much like Menewa, this man was as different from him as night and day. His hair was several shades lighter and his eyes were a strange, colorless gray. He was heavier, stocky and big boned. The beaded patterns on his necklace, armbands, and headband were graceful and bright where the ones on Menewa and his warriors were dark and angular.
Lorelei gasped a second time. “That’s Klah! How did he become chief of the Minninnewah in father’s place?”
Klah and his warriors slowed their quick place and fell back, then finally stopped, content to watch what transpired.
Storm flexed his shoulders and hefted his swords as Menewa and his warriors drew near. He stepped just outside the treeline and took a fighting stance.
The warriors stopped while Menewa took three more steps to stand before them. The angles of his face were as hard and uncompromising as his voice. “Our god has declared you anathema and commanded your death. Come out and die like a man or hide and die like a coward, but either way, die you will.”
Storm sucked in a huge breath to roar his defiance when a thin reedy voice called out from behind all the warriors. “No! You must not! He is protected by the Lord of Light!”
Startled, everyone turned to see an old man galloping toward them on horseback, waving a wooden staff at them. “Get out of the way,” he cried at them. “Go on, move, move!” He poked and prodded them like cattle. They gave way slowly, letting him pass. He was dressed like them, although he was whipcord thin and wiry. Gray streaks were threatening to take over his hair and one leg was bent and twisted from old wounds sustained in combat. He slid off the horse, leaning heavily on his walking stick. The beaded designs on his headband identified him as one of the Minninnewah.
Behind him, Storm heard Lorelei whisper, “That’s Hania, the priest of the Lord of Light. He spoke the prophecy over me the night I was born.”
Confusion had broken out in the ranks of the two groups of warriors and suspicious looks were traded back and forth. Storm noticed Klah looking to Menewa, almost as if for guidance. Hania hobbled forward to stand between Storm and the gathered warriors. He held up a hand for silence.
Menewa’s face was taut with anger. “Get out of the way, old man!”
Hania ignored him. “This man is favored by the Lord of Light. If the Namida harm him, the Minninnewah will kill everyone of them!”
A gasp went up from both sides.
Klah took a quick step forward. “What are you saying? Are you trying to start the fighting all over again? Hasn’t there been enough bloodshed already?” Some of his warriors nodded cautiously but many appeared outraged as if he were siding with the enemy.
A slight smile quirked the corners of Menewa’s mouth. Storm noted it with interest.
He shook his spear in the air and they turned to him. “Our god would not have declared him anathema without reason. You and your god stand aside, Hania. This is Namida business.”
Storm’s temper, volatile under the best of circumstances, was reaching a boiling point. Enough of this nonsense! He strode forward, pushing Hania to the side. “Adrammelech has an excellent reason for hating me,” he sneered. “I was born and raised to manhood on Elder Earth!” A gasp sounded all around. “I lived until I was an old man then I was brought to Gaia and restored to youth as a baby, where I was found, adopted, and raised by the Bear Clan. Now I’m a Ghibbore for the Lord of Light, endowed with healing power as a sign of His power!” With those words he reached out and touched Hania’s shoulder. Power flowed into the priest. Suddenly his leg straightened and filled out until it looked the same as his other one, as if it had never been injured.
Shock was etched on their faces. He could hear whispers rippling through their ranks. Hania was walking back and forth on his healed leg, awe and wonder stamped on him.
He slammed his swords together. “I’m not finished!”
Silence descended as if cut by a knife.
“I was brought here to find the man who murdered my blood-brother, Crowsotarri.”
An uproar broke out. Storm glanced aside at Klah. His face had gone pasty white, a sure sign of guilt. The stocky man kept glancing at Menewa as if for help.
Meanwhile, Menewa was yelling for silence. Storm found it notable the chief had to yell at his warriors several times to get their compliance whereas they had obeyed Storm instantly. They finally quieted down enough for Menewa to make himself heard again. “Brought? Brought by who?”
Storm gave him a predatory smile. “Glad you asked.” He straightened his back and quoted the prophecy that had caused so much trouble, the one spoken over Lorelei on the night of her birth.
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.
Lorelei stepped out of the woods to a gasp of disbelief from the gathered warriors. Hania whirled around so fast he almost fell, then watched, stunned as she joined Storm to stand at his right hand.
“I am Storm of the Bear Clan, Ghibbore from Elder Earth, Man of Might from the prophecy, blood-brother to Crowsotarri, and husband to Lorelei, the Child of Heaven!” The earlier hubbub was nothing to the one that ensued now. Woman and children from the camp had been steadily filling in the space behind the warriors until there were hundreds of people crowding around. The resulting noise was nearly deafening.
And amid the uproar, Menewa’s face was suffused with deadly anger.