Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: ZENITH (04/21/16)
TITLE: Over The Top
By Jack Taylor
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There was no reply. The warrior looked back over his shoulder at the buffalo-hide shelters being disassembled by his tribal group in the clearing below. The horses were restless and straining at the harnesses which held them in place.
Craven raked dirt-stained calloused fingers through his shoulder-length dark hair and scanned the skies. The tumbling clouds fought each other with thunderous rage as they prepared to unleash another deluge on the forested mountaintops. Already streams covered his feet and grabbed at the laces holding his deerskin boots in place. The chill of their icy birthplace in the snow peaks above crept through his footwear.
A grizzly sow and two cubs lumbered through the alpine forest a few dozen yards away. He made no effort to reach for his bow or spear. The wild things always knew when trouble was coming and they knew how to get away from it. A six-pointed buck vaulted over the stream ahead of him and raced into the brush. A single raven fluttered out of the trees and scurried into the shelter of a rotting log. Even the sun was pressing down to hide behind the hills.
Time was short. “Zenith!”
Still no reply from his daughter.
Zenith was his firstborn – the pride of his heart. His wife, Senshua, had died giving birth to their third daughter. The second daughter lasted only three winters. He had one child left to provide for and protect. As the shadows swallowed up the landscape, he knew the chill on top of the hill would test the best of warriors.
Years before, Craven had prepared a special coming of age test, one usually reserved for sons. The test involved one week alone traipsing through the forest, surviving on what a warrior could hunt, kill and eat. It involved climbing to the highest peak and drawing the scene in charcoal. Twice he had called it off as the weather changed.
Zenith pleaded to take the test of the warriors to prove that a daughter could be as worthy as a son. Craven had ignored his daughter’s request. This day, he had hunted from dawn and returned to an empty home. No rabbit stew tantalized his nostrils. Now the father knew his only child had gone.
Craven had called her Zenith purposefully at her one year naming ceremony because he believed that she could be the first woman to scale the heights and go over the top. She was strong-willed and was determined to do all her father did. But, she had been too ambitious and been thrown from a horse during a raid in her tenth year. The fall had left her with a permanent limp. Craven had given up his dream but his daughter hadn’t. She was determined to go over the top of the mountain on her own.
He uttered the war cry of his people toward the peak, challenging the thundering clouds. The rain fell like a waterfall over him, slipping under his clothing, filling his shoes. The rains released a river of mud to block his pathway. He pulled himself from tree to tree pressing upward. The night folded over him like a soggy buffalo wrap.
Craven felt the fog in the darkness. Still he pressed upward toward the top of Eagle’s Crest. His voice was hoarse from screaming through the storm. He waded through two gulleys filled with waist-high waters, the second almost washing him over a drop. He gripped a tree branch protruding into the water and held on until he pulled himself to safety.
At dawn, the rain stopped, the clouds rolled back and the sunrays tickled the tops of the snow peaks above. There were no tracks to follow but his instincts pushed him on. A single eagle circled overhead, ever the guardian.
As the sun reached its zenith he rounded a final bluff and saw her. Zenith was standing at the summit of Eagle’s Crest, arms raised, soaking in the power of the sun.
Craven released his war cry and Zenith turned and answered with her own. She waited until he arrived then held out a rabbit skin with a fresh charcoal drawing. The likeness was unmistakeable to what he saw below.
“Father, I am ready for my ceremony,” she said. “I have completed the task.”
Craven rolled up the rabbit skin and faced the canyon below. “Who are you?”
“I am Zenith,” she shouted to the canyons.
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