Sundered Peak

through the mind of kyle tolle

The Warrior and the Warbler

A warrior leapt from a boulder and dropped into several feet of drifted snow. She sank up to her midriff and spent the next few minutes digging herself loose enough to manage another step. She’d become separated from her troop in the night.

The unit was passing through these mountains in early spring, and were eager to return home after a year of campaigning. Just after they’d made camp, a blizzard descended upon them. A foot and a half of snow, fifty mile an hour winds, and many collapsed tents later, the captain rounded up his troops and began a night hike to make their way out of this pass before it filled with snow and buried them. Torches helped very little against the dark, the show, and the wind. So it was not much loss that all were soon blown out.

Our warrior lead up the back of the line. Head down, arms tight against her torso, and foot steps heavy. Along a series of bouldered steps, she lost her footing. She fell off the path, tumbled down a powdered hill, and lost sight of her companions. The wind stifled her calls, and the icy slope prevented her from making it back up to retrace their steps. A trickle of moon light filtered through the storm, but did little to help her gain her bearings. She took a guess as to the correct direction and set off. To stop would mean certain death through freezing.

Through the night, she walked on, following a general path down through icy peaks. As morning rose, the storm abated and only a few small flakes alighted on her helmet as she plodded through snow banks. Unfortunately, she could not recognize the terrain about her. She must have crossed some ridge that took her along and over a mountain arm other than the one she needed. The snow was wet and heavy, sitting on the ground with a purpose. Each step was hard earned and took a toll on her body. Her boots were soaked many hours ago, and her feet nearly numb. It wouldn’t do to tramp all over these buried slopes for a day or more. Exposure would grip her and pull her into a bleak, eternal rest.

A call rang through the air and the warrior followed the sound to a snow-heavy, berry-laden bush. A small, yellow-backed warbler burst forth from the branches, scattering snow in a small explosion. It flew in circles above the warrior. Soon the bird darted down toward the woman and flew off, straight as an arrow, uphill. Up the way she’d just come down.

For a few minutes, the warrior continued along her originally planned route. But the warbler’s call was loud, and frequent, and seemed directed at her. The bird flew circles about her until she looked up, and then went immediately off in that same, uphill direction. The warrior looked ahead, downhill, and all she could see was snow and boulder fields leading into more folds of mountain. Her curiosity got the better of her and the warrior trudged back uphill; following the warbler.

When she reached the top of this hill, the bird sang out a new tune, swarmed about her, and pointed her in a new direction. The warrior dutifully followed after, whistling a mimic of the bird’s call. The warrior and the warbler were now a band.

Several more slow, grueling hours in the snow and cold left the warrior shivering and exhausted. She gathered strength and determination, and continued following the warbler. Soon another warbler joined the first, and the two birds chirped and played in the air. Our warrior took this second bird joining their band as a good sign. Both birds would dart off in the same direction, and she would stomp along after. Hoping they knew the way home.

Later, she crested yet another hilltop and a great valley lay below her. A line of dots below her moved through the snow and pine trees. Further down the valley, plumes of smoke rose from chimneys. The warrior followed the warblers on, until she was close enough to shout for her unit’s attention. They stopped and looked up to the warrior encircled by two yellow birds.

Our warrior slid down several yards of snow and was caught up to her unit. She rested there for a few moments and the birds settled onto the snow next to her. The companion our warrior had been behind during the night threw her helmet into the snow with relief.

“I only noticed you missing after no trace remained. You have my apologies.”

“It’s nothing,” the warrior replied. “Night and snow and storm are each perilous for a hike, let alone all three at once.”

The warblers rose into the air, singing a new and cheerful song. The warrior did not tell her unit how the birds had lead her back over hills she’d crossed in the wrong direction. How the creatures had certainly saved her life. The story would seem too fanciful. Why would such birds help her, or even know how to? She was unsure of how they knew her need, but owed them thanks all the same.

When the troop made it into the city, the warrior first stopped at home to greet her family, but then took her armor to the smith. Her instructions were to engrave two warblers upon the breastplate and helm. To paint the birds the brightest yellow they’d available. She would keep the warbler close to heart and mind with each new journey.

With her husband and children, she did share the story. They were each awed and inspired. The warbler was added to their family crest, and that tale passed on and remembered.

Down through the ages it’s come. Names and location lost, but the root remains. When you’ve lost your way, trust in the kindness of the birds. To safety you’ll be lead, once you’ve given up your pride.

Even today, the warbler is a symbol on many shields, tapestries, fine dishes, and flowing dresses. All in remembrance of the warrior and the warbler.