Chapter 13: Wisdom
Almonihah wasn’t really thinking about his little encounter with Owl Talon during the night when he awakened. The Plainsmen rose with the sun, just as Almonihah usually did. The half-dragon started looking for the Chief once it seemed like the village was awake. He was intercepted by a young Plainsman whose job was apparently to make sure the honored guest had breakfast. He assured the honored guest that he would help Almonihah find the Chief after he had discharged that duty. He wasn’t in any particular hurry to talk with Griffon Heart, so Almonihah agreed.
After a breakfast of bison meat and some simple cakes of wheat flour, his Plainsman guide took him to the Chief, who apparently customarily had people come to him at this hour. He had to wait for a bit while he talked with a woman about something—about her son hunting or something—and then the Chief turned his attention to Almonihah.
“I trust that you found nothing amiss with our hospitality?” He asked.
Almonihah shook his head. “Just wanted t’ talk t’ you about what ‘m going t’ be doing while ‘m here.”
Griffon Heart nodded. “You had something in mind?”
“Yeah. I was thinking about going with th’ next group ‘f hunters you send t’wards th’ North Forest. See ‘f I can teach them about some ‘f the dangers of th’ Forest they don’t know about.”
The Chief nodded again. “Our people do not often venture into the Forest, largely because of the dangers you speak of. However, I am certain that some of our hunters would be glad to learn from you. It will, however, be at least a moon before another hunting group journeys to the north. What will you do until then?”
Almonihah thought for a bit. He hadn’t really considered the fact that he might have to wait for a bit.
Eventually, he just shrugged. “Not sure.”
Griffon Heart laughed. “Well, I doubt that doing nothing would sit well with you…”
The Ranger shook his head. Sitting around doing nothing was not something he’d ever been fond of. Especially after being in Galindakherithan’s lair.
“Perhaps you could observe our way of life for a time and see if there is something you wish to do,” The Chief suggested.
“Might’s well,” was Almonihah’s response.
Almonihah spent the next weeks among the people of the tribe, wandering from place to place. While at first most of the Plainsmen still treated him with superstitious awe, they slowly—with Almonihah’s stubborn insistence—stopped referring to him as the “Great Thunder Spirit”. The half-dragon could swear that some of them were still watching him when he wasn’t looking, waiting for him to sprout wings, fly up into the air, and summon a thunderstorm, or whatever it was a Thunder Spirit was supposed to do, but at least they weren’t doing it while he was looking any more.
One thing the Ranger noted as he wandered the village was that there were many more Plainswomen than Plainsmen in the village. Eventually, he discovered that most of the men were out in one of the tribe’s hunting camps, following the various herds of the Great Plains. Not long after he asked about this, one of the hunting groups returned, bringing hides and preserved meats. There was a flurry of activity in the village for the next few days, and then another group left to hunt, and the village settled back down into its normal routine.
What struck Almonihah the most about the Plainsmen’s way of life was how… different it was from that of the men in the villages along the Gold Road. While he couldn’t quite put his finger on what the difference was, he knew it was there. It was something in the feel of the village…
The last thing that Almonihah noticed was how many times Owl Talon ‘just happened’ to run into him. After what seemed like the hundredth time that this happened, Almonihah just had to say something.
“Don’t you have anything better t’ do than follow me around?” The half-dragon growled at Owl Talon.
The Plainsman laughed his soft, gentle laugh at Almonihah’s question. “Follow you?” he asked. “Whatever gave you that impression?”
“Can’t go anywhere without tripping over you,” was Almonihah’s gruff response.
“It is, as you have seen, a small village,” the old Plainsman replied, spreading his arms out with a bit of a grin. “It would be more of a surprise if I did not encounter you.”
The half-dragon grumbled something under his breath, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort to argue.
Almonihah did find himself visiting Owl Talon more often as time went on. While the old Plainsman’s habit of being ‘mysterious’ did annoy Almonihah, he found that, once he got past that, the old man did actually know a lot. What they talked about most, however, were the stories of the Griffon Tribe.
Almonihah wasn’t quite certain how they first got on that subject, but once it came up, it seemed completely natural that every conversation they had would involve one of the Griffon Tribe’s traditional tales. The first time it happened, he listened through the story without too much thought, just treating it as something kind of interesting, but of no import. It was only later that he realized that there was meaning to the story. Not meaning like some children’s tale that had a moral at the end, but meaning in how the characters viewed and interacted with the world around them. It was a way of thinking about stories that he’d never tried before, and he wondered if it applied to other stories, as well.
There was a particular element that cropped up several times in the stories. After the third time it was mentioned, Almonihah had to ask about it.
“What’s a vision quest?”
Owl Talon smiled in his mysterious way. “Ah, vision quests. I suppose you would not know about those.”
The half-dragon grunted impatiently. It was rather obvious that he didn’t know about them, since he was asking about them…
Owl Talon’s smile seemed to grow just a bit wider, as if the old man was amused by the younger Ranger’s impatience. “You have no doubt noticed by now that the names our children have are different from those the adults of the tribe have.”
Almonihah nodded. He had noticed that. The adults had… descriptive names, he guessed was the best thing to call them, while the children had names more like the ones he was used to.
“When a young man of the Griffon Tribe comes of age, he must go on a vision quest. When he does this, he must leave all the trappings of his young life behind—he gives away his childhood things, and takes only a single weapon with him. And then he must leave the village alone, guided only by the Earth Mother. When he returns, he tells the village wise man—me, for the moment—what he saw and did, and I tell him his adult name.”
Almonihah thought over what Owl Talon had said silently. The old Plainsman, accustomed by now to the half-dragon’s ways, stood up.
“Well, I believe you’re leaving at sunrise, young dragon.”
Almonihah nodded, ignoring the ‘young dragon’ thing. He’d given up on breaking Owl Talon of that by now.
“You’d best go prepare, then. It is sunset now, and the nights are short this time of year.”
Almonihah did, indeed, leave with the hunting party the next morning. It was a group of about twenty Plainsmen, along with a few Plainswomen. They were quite glad to have the half-dragon along, though it was clear to him that they still maintained some of the superstitious awe that nearly the whole tribe had showed towards him when he first arrived. By now, Almonihah had more or less learned to ignore it, but it still bothered him just a bit.
The made camp not far from the North Forest, and then set out to hunt. Some days they hunted the plains, searching for the great herds that traveled the area. Almonihah found that, while he was competent enough, there was still much he could learn from the Plainsmen about the Plains and the beasts that wandered it. Some days, the hunted the Forest, and then it was the Ranger who was the teacher, and the Plainsmen the learners.
The time passed swiftly. Soon, several weeks had passed, and the days were no longer so long. The herds were moving south, and the Plainsmen returned to their village. Almonihah went with them, still not quite certain where else he wished to go.
Owl Talon met the half-dragon when the hunting party returned to the village. “I see you have returned to us,” the old Plainsman said, a bit of a mysterious smile in his tone and on his face.
Almonihah’s response was a nod and a grunt.
The Shaman nodded as well, as if he had been expecting that precise response. “Perhaps you will remain with us through the winter? Already it is fall, and the first snows will come not long from now.”
“Maybe,” was the half-dragon’s terse reply.
Almonihah didn’t leave the village, but neither did he particularly feel like staying. He tried to figure out why he wasn’t going anywhere as he aimlessly wandered through the days and weeks. It wasn’t as if he really wanted to live in a place like this… while he’d grown to respect the Griffon Tribe’s ways during his time with them, the idea of staying in one area and doing the same routine year after year just grated on him.
At the same time, he finally admitted to himself late in the autumn, he didn’t really have anywhere he wanted to go. He’d been thinking about going south to the Line, but in all honesty, that had just been for lack of a better idea. No, he didn’t want to go somewhere he’d be stuck for a while doing the same thing every day, whether here with the tribe or south at the Line. So… basically, he wanted to go anywhere, but there wasn’t anywhere he wanted to go.
He snorted at his own thoughts.
The first snows were falling when he finally realized what he’d wanted to do for the last several months. The tribe was gathered to hear a tale from Owl Talon, as was apparently their tradition when the first snow fell. As many of their tales did, it related the story of a young man on his Vision Quest, and the many experiences he had during it.
After the tale was done, Almonihah was able to catch up with Owl Talon out of sight and hearing of the other Plainsmen. The old shaman turned and looked up at the half-dragon with one of his mysterious smiles.
“Is there something you wish, young dragon?” he asked.
Almonihah was quiet for a while, trying to decide how to approach the subject. Finally, he asked, “How d’ you go on a Vision Quest?”
Owl Talon nodded, as if this was the most natural question in the world… or one he’d been expecting for a long time. “First, I would have you understand that most Vision Quests are not nearly so dramatic as those in our tales.” He waited for Almonihah’s nod before continuing. “To begin a Vision Quest, the young man in question must leave behind all of his possessions except a single weapon.”
Almonihah nodded. That much he’d been able to pick up from the stories.
“After that, he must leave the village until he knows it is time to return. Although,” Owl Talon paused, “You most likely will not be returning to us for quite some time. Regardless, he must then travel out into the wilds, and there… follow the direction of the Earth Mother.”
The half-dragon nodded slowly. “’nd you leave in th’ Spring.”
Owl Talon nodded.
“Guess I’m here until then.”