"See-Far-Ahead laid a hand on the Lady's arm. 'Think of a young warrior and a certain sanctuary maiden. Against her mother's wishes, did she not ride by night to his camp, where they exchanged marriage vows? Do you remember?'"
The Arkadians, Lloyd Alexander
This is a tale of wonder and enchantment, love and hatred, Horse Clans, sanctuary maidens, heartless fathers and wicked uncles, trials and triumphs. And the occasional rainbow.
It starts very simply, though, with a young couple and their first babe, and all that resulted from its birth.
So: When Demios, of the Bear tribe, found his wife, Morning-Joy, formerly a maidservant to the Lady of Wild Things, was to bear him a child, he was delighted. He went round to all his friends, boasting of the triumphs that his son would bring him, sure that the lad would be strong and swift and bring great honors home from the wars.
His consternation, therefore, was great indeed when the midwife came out from his wife's birthing room and presented him with a baby girl.
"What's this?" he asked blankly.
"Your daughter," the midwife answered.
Astonishment dawned on Demios' face, followed swiftly by rage. "A girl?" he roared. "Where's my son? What use have I for a whining, puling girl?"
He stamped and roared, blaming the midwife, Morning-Joy, and all women in general for his ill-luck, and ended by casting his wife and daughter out into the cold winter night, refusing to let them in.
"I've no use for a chit of a girl and a wife who gives me daughters when I want sons," he fumed. "You no longer have a place in my home: begone!"
With that, he slammed the door in their faces.
The next morning, he had already repented of his hasty wrath, and prepared to take his wife back and forgive her for giving him a daughter, but she was nowhere to be found. He searched high and low, throughout the entire village, but it was as if Morning-Joy and the babe had vanished entirely.
Muttering angrily to himself about unreliable women, Demios stamped back to his house, to await their return.
Meanwhile, finding herself outcast, and fearing for her daughter's safety, Morning-Joy had fled the village, blindly seeking shelter, she knew not where. She sought refuge in many homes along the way, but none would take her in.
"Get you gone!" they all cried. "We've no need for two more mouths to feed! Times are hard enough for us as it is, without adding extra burdens."
Through many hardships and misadventures, Morning-Joy finally made her way to Mount Panthea, the dwelling place of the Lady of Wild Things. Met by the sanctuary maidens, Morning-Joy exhaustedly pled to be allowed to stay.
"The Lady turns none away," they answered. "You and your daughter shall have a place with us for as long as you desire."
Feeling quite sure that she would never wish to leave, Morning-Joy joined their ranks and set about the task of raising her daughter, who grew only more beautiful and wise with each passing day. In strength, battle prowess, and fleetness of foot she had no equal, nor were there any found among the Daughters of Morning who could match her surpassing beauty, and to all this she seemed to bear all the wisdom of all women throughout the ages. Even the Lady took special notice of her, and Morning-Joy began to hope for great things for her daughter, now named Amaranth in the Mother Tongue, that is: Flower-Never-Fading.
Most of Flower-Never-Fading's teaching came from the other Daughters of Morning, but Morning-Joy made sure to teach her daughter one very important lesson: never trust men, and never, ever trust anyone of the Bear tribe. She never forgot the cruelty of her husband or the indifference of those who would not let her say, and she didn't want her daughter to suffer the way she had.
And so Flower-ever-Fading grew in wisdom and beauty into a young woman whom all said was destined for great things.
About this time, a wild bear began ravaging the lands below Mount Panthea, destroying everything in its path and inflicting horrific injuries on many of the sanctuary maidens who came into its path. Normally on good terms with all wild things, the Lady harbored bitter enmity toward the bears, and immediately sent word to Lord Runs-With-the-Wind, the chief of the Horse Clan, to come and rid her of this menace.
Lord Runs-With-the-Wind was more than happy to oblige his dear friend, and came at once with a band of his strongest warriors, including his son, a brave young man with keen blue eyes and tawny hair, named See-Far-Ahead. See-Far-Ahead was the noblest of all in that noble clan, and well-loved by all but two: his uncles, Waits-in-Vain and Dark-Horse. They alone out of all that people hated and feared their nephew, for they would have had the ruling of the Horse Clan after Lord Runs-With-the-Wind's death had it not been for his son's birth. They were forever scheming to either kill him or disgrace him, but in vain thus far.
The warriors were milling about, waiting to begin the hunt, when they were startled by the appearance of a young woman in their midst, garbed in hunting clothes like theirs, with her long golden hair pulled back into a braid. She carried a bow and quiver of arrows, and eyed their surprised faces with cool amusement before presenting herself to Lord Runs-With-the-Wind.
"And who might you be?" he asked, eying her skeptically.
"I am Flower-Never-Fades, and I am here to join the hunt," she responded calmly.
The men of the Horse Clan burst into boisterous laughter at this. Runs-With-the-Wind silenced them with a wave of his hand.
"This is dangerous sport, young woman, not fit for a lady so gracious and gentle as yourself."
Without deigning to answer in words, Flower-Never-Fades swiftly fitted an arrow to her bow and, taking aim at a miniscule leaf fluttering in the breeze at the top of a tall ash tree, she loosed the arrow and struck her mark.
Astonished at such skill, the warriors murmured amongst themselves. Who would have thought a woman could show such ability?
"Father!" called a strong, glad voice. Runs-With-the-Wind acknowledged his son.
"Let her come," See-Far-Ahead said. "We have need of all the skill we can have. Who are we to turn her away simply because she is a woman? Her ability speaks louder than her gender."
There were more murmurings at this, but Runs-With-the-Wind heeded the wisdom's in his son's words, and accepted Flower-Never-Fading's assistance. He assigned her to See-Far-Ahead's band, knowing his son would see to it she came into no danger.
The moment Flower-Never-Fading set eyes on the young warrior, she felt something she'd never experienced before: as if all her limbs turned to water and her stomach became a roiling cauldron of boiling water.
See-Far-Ahead felt the same, and though neither said anything, in that moment, their hearts met in perfect accord and became one.
So it was that Runs-With-the-Wind unwittingly put Flower-Never-Fading in the greatest danger of all!
Soon they had picked up the bear's tracks, and the hunt was on. All rode swiftly and well, but none so well as See-Far-Ahead and Flower-Never-Fading. Filled with a new and strange joy, they felt as though nothing could stop them. Soon, they left the other warriors far behind, and pursued the bear by themselves.
See-Far-Ahead saw the creature first, but it was Flower-Never-Fading who drew bow and shot at it. Her aim was true, and the bear stumbled and roared, wounded but not yet dead. See-Far-Ahead rejoiced more in her skill than in his own, and spurred on by her deed, lunged at the thing with his spear.
He struck cleanly, and the bear fell down dead.
"Well-struck!" cried Flower-Never-Fading, triumphing in his victory. "This prize is yours."
"Nay, for the first blow was yours," replied See-Far-Ahead. "To you go the spoils of war."
While they wrangled over who had accomplished more, Waits-in-Vain and Dark-Horse approached unheard and unseen. Listening to the two, their hearts filled with hatred for their nephew and the woman who had outshone all the men in the hunt.
"Let us kill them both now and claim the bear did it," muttered Waits-in-Vain to his brother. "Then we shall be free of him, and receive the glory of the kill for ourselves."
But Dark-Horse shook his head. "No. I have a better idea. Let us attack See-Far-Ahead, push him to the point where he must strike out at us. Then we shall claim that it was he who attacked us, because we tried to reason with him against giving the prize to a mere girl. He shall be disgraced and cast out, and we will reign after our brother is gone."
"He will say we attacked him, though," objected Waits-in-Vain.
"It will seem as though he is merely trying to cover up his shameful act," Dark-Horse said. "There are two of us to one of him, and who will doubt our word after the way he insisted the girl be given a place among us?"
"And what of her testimony?"
"She's a woman," Dark-Horse said scornfully. "Who will listen to what she says?"
The plan seemed good, and so they agreed to try it. While See-Far-Ahead and Flower-Never-Fading argued happily over who deserved more honor, the uncles slipped in behind them and attacked the young warrior.
With a cry, Flower-Never-Fading leapt in to defend him, but he held her back.
"Do not strike!" he shouted. "They are my kin." And he tried to reason with them, and begged them to withdraw, but they made no reply.
They pressed him more and more, but he would not raise a hand against them, while Flower-Never-Fading darted about in a fury, unwilling to go against See-Far-Ahead's wishes, but longing to help.
Seeing that they were getting nowhere, Dark-Horse turned from his nephew and lunged at Flower-Never-Fading.
Seeing her in danger, See-Far-Ahead forgot himself, and struck.
The next moment, they all froze in horror, looking at the dead body of Dark-Horse lying on the ground.
"I never meant to kill," gasped See-Far-Ahead, wrung with guilt. "Only to protect."
Waits-in-Vain, not bothering to take the time to mourn over his brother, saw his opportunity.
"Murderer! You would kill your own uncle! You shall be outcast for this. Shame on one who would so forget the ties of blood for a mere girl!"
"And what of you," asked Flower-Never-Fading indignantly. "An uncle who attacked his own nephew? Is there not as much shame attached to you?"
Waits-in-Vain pretended not to hear her, and before Flower-Never-Fading could speak again, the rest of the Horse Clan were upon them.
Runs-With-the-Wind cried out in a loud voice at the scene before him: the dead bear, Dark-Horse slain on the ground, Waits-in-Vain with a brandished blade, Flower-Never-Fading spattered with blood, and See-Far-Ahead standing over his uncle's body with a dripping blade.
"What has happened?" cried the lord. "Who has killed the brother of my wife, and why does my son stand as one condemned?"
Waits-in-Vain, afraid that See-Far-Ahead would defend himself, leapt in.
"Oh lord, see what your son had done! He has murdered his own kin, and would have killed me as well. When my brother, Dark-Horse, reasoned with him against giving honor and the prize of the hunt to this female," with a sour glare at Flower-Never-Fading, "See-Far-Ahead became mad with rage and slew him. Shame! Shame on all our family, that one could behave so."
Runs-With-the Wind could not believe his ears, yet his son made no defense. "See-Far-Ahead, have you nothing to say to this accusation?"
"No, my lord," replied See-Far-Ahead gravely. "I am guilty of murder. Do to me what you will."
"Well, I have plenty to say," Flower-Never-Fading spoke up. "Waits-in-Vain has a mouth full of lies, and See-Far-Ahead is taking the blame for what was truly an accident—and protecting me beside."
Runs-With-the-Wind, his face stern and sorrowful, held up his hand. "Peace, young maiden. This is a matter for the Horse Clan. You have no place in this; return to the Lady with my blessing."
Flower-Never-Fading tried several times to reason with them, but finding that no one would listen, she threw up her hands and left, determined to find some way to clear See-Far-Ahead's name.
Upon returning to the Lady's sanctuary, she found that no one there was much inclined to listen to her, either. The Daughters of Morning told her that it was none of her business, and she shouldn't have been in the hunt at all, and her mother just told her that all men were treacherous, and she was better off without See-Far-Ahead.
Flower-Never-Fading endured two days of this before hearing more news. Then a young warrior from the Horse Clan came to the sanctuary, asking for the huntress maiden. Rightly guessing that could be none other than Flower-Never-Fading, the Daughters of Morning led him to her.
Flower-Never-Fading was surprised to see the young warrior, but she received him graciously and asked what his business was.
"My lord, Runs-With-the-Wind, has sent me on behalf of he who was once his son and is now an outcast from our clan. See-Far-Ahead is banished from our people forever for the murder he committed so foully, and, in the manner of our people, has been granted one last boon before being cast out. The boon he asked was to see you. Will you come?"
"Certainly," Flower-Never-Fading answered, a troubled expression on her face. "Somebody needs to clear this mess up."
At that moment, Morning-Joy stepped up. "You shall not go, daughter," she said. "This See-Far-Ahead will only bring you more grief. You will stay here, and forget all about him. It is better this way."
Flower-Never-Fading wept and pled, but Morning-Joy stood firm, and in the end, the messenger was sent away empty-handed.
However, Flower-Never-Fading was not to be so discouraged. She waited until it was dark and the maidens were all asleep, and then mounted her horse and rode like a mountain gale to the Horse Clan camp.
There was only one lone sentry outside the camp, and he was so startled to see a Daughter of Morning riding down at him out of the night that he let her pass without even a challenge. Flower-Never-Fading, led by some unerring instinct, found the tent of the prisoner, dismounted, and hurried inside before any of the startled warriors could think to stop her.
See-Far-Ahead was sitting on a small stool, his hands folded in his lap, his face grave. The markings of the Horse Clan had been removed from his face, and his back bore the signs of a recent flogging.
At that, Flower-Never-Fading could not restrain a cry. See-Far-Ahead turned quickly, jumped up, and approached her disbelievingly.
"Amaranth! Is it—can it really be you? They told me you would not come!"
"They could not stop me," Flower-Never-Fading answered. "Oh my love, why did you let them do this to you?"
He stepped back, his eyes wide. "I murdered my uncle. It is only because of my father's great love for me that I have not been put to death."
Flower-Never-Fading placed her hands on her hips in exasperation. "Have you forgotten that your uncles attacked you? That Dark-Horse tried to kill me? That you only swung to defend me, and he turned into the blade so that he was killed instead of knocked out?"
"None of that matters," See-Far-Ahead answered. "I killed him, and I must bear the penalty. I only asked for you so that I could say goodbye."
"That is a pretty poor reason to drag me all the way down here in the middle of the night," Flower-Never-Fading said. "No; if you are determined to let them throw you out into the wilderness, then the least I can do is go with you."
"Amaranth, no! I could not subject you to my shame and disgrace."
"Nonsense. Call the lyrikos. He has a wedding to perform."
See-Far-Ahead continued to protest, but Flower-Never-Fading was adamant, and in the end he gave in. She ordered one of the guards to fetch the lyrikos, and there in the prisoner's tent, See-Far-Ahead and Flower-Never-Fading were wed.
"Now," said Flower-Never-Fading. "Let's see if we can't straighten this mess out."
Leading her husband out by the hand, she cut through the gathered crowd and went straight before Runs-With-the-Wind.
"Since my husband will not speak in his own defense, and no one hear will listen to me, I claim the right to take him before the Lady of Wild Things, that she may judge his case, and I will accept her judgment as final."
"Judgment has already been passed!" Waits-in-Vain cried out. "You cannot change that."
"Since I married See-Far-Ahead, he is entitled to the same rights as I have, and no sanctuary maiden can be condemned without the Lady's approval," Flower-Never-Fading told him with satisfaction.
Waits-in-Vain sputtered and fumed, but Runs-With-the-Wind nodded his head. "She speaks truth," he said. "We will go before the Lady."
Flower-Never-Fading squeezed See-Far-Ahead's hand.
"Don't worry," she said. "Just leave everything to me."
"Do I have a choice?" he wondered aloud.
"No," she told him.
The Lady of Wild Things received them at dawn, awaiting them all in the courtyard of her sanctuary, accompanied by the Daughters of Morning and two sleek leopards, stretched out at her feet like lazy cats.
She was very beautiful, the Lady, with the calm beauty of a woman who knows her own worth and is not challenged or threatened by anyone or anything.
She called upon Runs-With-the-Wind first, and listened as he told her exactly what he had seen and heard after the death of Dark-Horse, and how See-Far-Ahead said no word in his own defense, but quietly accepted his sentence.
Then Waits-in-Vain spoke, his sneering, pinched face wrinkled with hatred and disgust.
"It was obvious from the first that Flower-Never-Fading had cast some sort of spell over See-Far-Ahead," he spat. "He stood alone against all the other warriors, insisting against his father's wishes that she be allowed to hunt. What man in his right mind would allow a girl to join the hunt? Yet See-Far-Ahead had his own way—he always does—and then, when by more of her trickery and magic, she helped destroy the bear, he insisted on giving her full credit and the skin, as her prize!
"My brother, with calm, loving words and wise advice, tried to reason with him, but See-Far-Ahead was so enchanted that he would not heed Dark-Horse's words, and becoming enraged, violently turned upon him and slew him where he stood! He would have killed me then, too, had not our fellow warriors come upon us then."
"And you, See-Far-Ahead, what have you to say to this accusation?" the Lady asked him.
See-Far-Ahead bowed his head. "My mother's brother is dead by my hand. How it came about is irrelevant."
"No, it's not!" Flower-Never-Fading burst out impatiently. "Lady"—
The Lady held up her hand gravely, but her eyes were twinkling slightly. "Peace, Flower-Never-Fading. I have heard your words on this subject—indeed; there are none among my maidens who have not. Now hear my judgment."
She raised her voice slightly; it became stronger and firmer in tone. "See-Far-Ahead has no evil in him; he is a pure soul. Had he been otherwise, he could never have come before me as he did today; I could have seen the untruth in him. The death of his uncle was an accident; he bears no blame for it.
"As to the accusation against Flower-Never-Fading, that she is a sorceress who enchanted See-Far-Ahead, that is nonsense. Magic went out of Arkadia with the Great Ones; while there is still some in various places, it cannot be found in a human being. The only magic Flower-Never-Fading bears is the magic and mystery of all women, and that, I am afraid, did indeed enchant See-Far-Ahead, and will continue to do so for the rest of his days.
"Now here is my sentence against See-Far-Ahead: he must travel in the outside world one year and a day, accompanied by his wife, until he has learned to tell the difference between nobility and foolishness, and has learned to see the world as it truly is, not as he wishes it would be. Only then will he be able to be an effective leader."
See-Far-Ahead suddenly smiled. "It shall be as you say, my Lady."
"As for Flower-Never-Fading, when the year and day has passed and See-Far-Ahead has returned to his clan as leader, she must come to me here, to be instructed in my ways, for she is to take my place when the time has come for me to depart Arkadia."
A murmur arose at this, and Flower-Never-Fading turned pale. "I?" she faltered. "It is too great an honor …"
"No, my child, it is a very great burden, but by your wisdom, bravery, and unshaken love you have shown yourself worthy of it. As for Waits-in-Vain," she said sternly, fixing her gaze on the wretched man, who wriggled and squirmed uncomfortably. "He is the one to be outcast from his people, left to wander the land for the rest of his days, until he has learned to be content with his lot, and can live at peace with all men." She pointed to the distant horizon. "Go."
Covering his face with his hands, Waits-in-Vain slunk away like a dog with its tail between its legs.
"Now," said the Lady to the young lovers. "Kneel before me and receive my blessing before leaving."
As they did so, filled with awe and wonder at her merciful and wise judgment, a rainbow burst out from behind the clouds and filled the sky with color and light.
"And so," concluded Lucian Aiee-Ouch, the greatest storyteller in Metara, "See-Far-Ahead and Flower-Never-Fading did learn the ways of the world, and each returned to their own people better for it. They both ruled long and well, and what was most remarked upon, even more than their wisdom, was their deep and undying love for each other. For such a love is immortal, and will last far beyond the day when both their bones have turned to dust."
"Marvelous," said Clever Oudeis, drawing in a deep breath. "As fine a tale as I ever did hear."
"Yes," added Fronto, the poet. "Though it could have done with a bit more blood and gore … perhaps the battle between See-Far-Ahead and Dark-Horse could have been drawn out more, or the hunt scene …"
Joy-in-the-Dance said nothing, but leaned against Lucian with a thoughtful look in her gray eyes.
"What happened to Waits-in-Vain?" piped up Catch-a-Tick. "Did he ever learn contentment?"
Lucian smiled. "Ah, now that's a tale for another day …"
Author's Note: Yes, this is the same story I had up yesterday, and then proceeded to take down and revise. It felt too rushed before. Anyhow, here it is, and I hope you enjoy! Constructive criticism is always welcome.
This tale is based loosely around the tale of Atalanta, Meleager, and the Calydonean boar.
An Amaranth flower, in Greek mythology, is a symbol of immortality. I thought it an appropriate title, all things considered.
Disclaimer: The Arkadians belong to Lloyd Alexander, Master of Storytellers.