The tall grass rustled in the wind. The golden stocks sweeping clean the horses flanks as the line progressed as one. The tinkling of metal mesh armor, the creak of the leather straps upon their boots. The procession bobbed rhythmically with the gait of their steeds; they move as if each man was within a small boat, and the high golden grass, the sea at sunset. The ground was uneven and the tread of the horses was slow. The sun was growing low in the west casting long shadows that flickered on the moving grass.
Each man clasped a sword at his side, some had a crossbow slung about his back. There was no sound but the men and the wind.
They knew this ground well. They knew it because they were part of it. They had ran the field a thousand times in day and another thousand during the pitch of night. They had ran it with their pounding feet and within their dreams. They knew this land, it was theirs and always would be.
The dark men ran in single file, lithe and sure of foot. They carried small bows and crooked knives, roughly cut from obsidian. Their skin was dark, their eyes keen. They peered through the lessening light with a pure perception of what nature held.
The man in the lead raised a hand to shoulder height and they all crouched as one, quickly and without sound. He sniffed the air, nostrils flaring like a galloped horse; a floating seed caught in the breeze wafted by. The tribal man reached out a hand and deftly caught it. He held it to his nose, his eyes.
“There are men, and horses,” he said in his own language.
“Where?” said another with black paint smeared upon his cheeks in vertical columns.
The leader did not answer the the question directly. Instead he looked at his younger companion, his commonly rash protege. “Let Muniek tell us what she may see,” he said.
The man with the marked face produced a small deer skin pack that had been strapped to his back. Loosening the ties, a birds head poked out from the opening—eyes covered with flaps of leather. The leader of the group drew the falcon out gently, careful not to hurt the bird in any way. It bristled at his touch, wings stretching, flexing, its love of flying about to be realized. The man who held it lifted off the leather flaps about the bird’s eyes. He then slowly raised it to the sky above. It took to the air without hesitation. Up it flew, high into the sky.
“They will know that we are close,” said the man with the painted face.
A woman, not far from the golden field, moaned in pain, her stomach bloated with child. The matron of the tribe stroked her dark hair methodically, whispering gentle encouragements in her ear. A third woman entered through the leather flap in the tent and knelt at the mother’s splayed legs. She carried a wooden basin filled with cool water from the spring nearby and several rags that the matron used to dab the sweat from the labored Sedinda’s forehead. She pushed—the moment of birth nearing.