The Sun failed to rise, just as it always did.
Uther, a member of the Lunari Tribe, rose from his kneeling position and breathed a sigh of disappointment into the frigid air. The standing stones that formed a ring around the top of the hill should have been a calendar for the sun and seasons, but still they framed nothing. A poor substitute for the sunrise came in the form of the daily snowfall. It glowed a pale blue color, and offered enough light to navigate the hill that most of the tribe was gathered on. I suppose Nathrae was wrong. Uther mused. But the prophecy seemed so clear. Why isn’t the Phoenix rising?
At the peak of the hill, Uther could see their priestess, Nathrae, finish leading the village in prayers to Aeindarhu, the Maker, and rise to her feet. The leader of the village and Uther’s father, Chief Garreth, rose to his feet as well, shoulders slumped. As he turned to return to the village, Uther took his cue to leave. If he was quick enough, he could beat the chief to the village and be gone before he arrived.
Having planned for this, Uther had placed himself strategically near the back of the hill. Some of the other villagers had arrived after him, though, and as he left, Uther saw them looking at him before whispering to each other. As he walked by them, he caught scraps of their conversation.
“Ran off with Belvar…”
“...A sad business indeed.”
Uther breathed a sigh of relief as he left the earshot of the gossipers. He hurried into the valley between the smaller hill where the prayers were held and the larger hill where the village, Tel Eramin, sat. At the lowest point of the valley were the cairns where his grandfather and great-grandfather were buried. He said a brief prayer to ask for strength before continuing his trek. He would need it for what he had to do today.
As Uther passed the chest-high walls that broke the snow drifts, he could see the peaked roofs of the village ahead. Constructed like the Lunari themselves, the buildings were lean and hardy, able to withstand the eternal winter.
Uther entered the village, dodging around ice patches. The chief’s house was at the center of the village. He hugged his coat more tightly to his chest as the wind whistled through the village square. Uther ducked around the back of the house to where his quarters were. Luckily, the servants were at the prayers, leaving him to gather his things in peace. Today was both the day he became a man according to his tribe’s customs, and the last day he would spend there.
Uther pushed open the door to his dimly lit room with a creak and took in what he hoped would be his last look at the space. Beside the pile of furs that served as his bed lay Uther’s obsidian knife. In the corner stood his quiver of darts and atlatl, a club-like device that provided him extra leverage on his throws. Uther had set a piece of sharp obsidian into the reverse side of the atlatl to make it into an effective close-range weapon. He strapped these weapons to his belt before gathering his lasso and throwing a fur cloak over his shoulders. Finally, he picked up a rucksack with all the camping supplies he would need. As he did, he caught a glimpse of himself in the polished obsidian mirror.
Like all members of the Lunari, he had long, white hair that contrasted sharply with his ebony skin, gathered in a long braid. His long, pointy ears matched his lanky build, though he was finally starting to fill out. His large, jet-black were made to see in the darkness of a world without sunlight. Uther rubbed his chin and felt a few stray hairs. He considered shaving, but then shook his head. He had work to do before leaving this village behind. Just as he laid his hand on the door handle to leave, it was flung open.
Uther took a step back, startled. But when he saw who it was, he relaxed.
“Thamuk!” He grasped the intruder’s forearm warmly and pulled him into the room. “I thought you wouldn’t be back for another few days. How are the Northern Plains looking, brother?”
“Worse than ever.” Thamuk shook his head. He looked very similar to Uther, but was several years older and much taller, not to mention full-grown and filled-out. Over the last few years, he had proven to be one of the strongest warriors in the tribe, and he had the scars to prove it. He carried his weapons—a pair of stone axes and an obsidian tipped spear—with an easy confidence born from years of practice. “I’ve never seen the Primordials so stirred up. The nightwalkers and ice wyrms are taking up wolf territory, which is sending them into—”Thamuk frowned and stepped forward to seize Uther’s rucksack. He flipped it open and inspected the contents. “What’s this? Are you planning to herd our wyrms for the next month?”
Uther pulled his rucksack back. “After I finish my shift, I’m leaving, Thamuk.”
“Where will you go?” Thamuk asked. “The Solari? Or perhaps you’ll find a Stellari to follow around.”
“Maybe,” Uther said. “But at least neither of them would gossip about me.”
“You’re my brother, Uther. Let me talk to Father and see if he will let me include you on the patrols. It’ll get you away from the busybodies around here.” Thamuk said.
“Half-brother, if the others are right,” Uther said bitterly. “And Father, if I can even call him that, does nothing to counter their talk. I doubt going on patrols would change anything.”
“I assume that means you’re skipping Mother’s remembrance ceremony tonight, then?” Thamuk asked.
“It’s a sham. Everyone knows that Mother isn’t dead.”
Thamuk frowned. “That’s not—”
He was interrupted by the sound of footsteps outside the door, immediately followed by the door being flung open again, and the pair was joined by the third member of their family, Chief Garreth. The chief was advancing in years, and his hair had more grey in it than white these days. He was the spitting image of Thamuk.
“My boy!” Garreth embraced Thamuk. “I’m glad you made it back. How are your warriors?”
Uther fidgeted with his pack and looked for an opportunity to leave, but Garreth blocked the doorway.
“They’re fine,” Thamuk said when they stepped apart. “I was just telling Uther here about the problems we’re having on the plains with the wolf migration.” The older brother gestured at Uther. “I want to include him in the patrols.”
Garreth glanced at his Uther and his face soured. “No. His place is in the fields, watching the wyrms.”
“He’s a man now, Father, and older than I was when you sent me out for patrol,” Thamuk protested. “And besides—”
“My decision is made.” Garreth cut him off, and took a step toward Thamuk. “Your younger brother has his place, and you, my son, have yours.”
Uther seized his chance and pushed past the chief, rucksack held close. He did his best to swallow the lump forming in his throat.