Elmal returns home from a raid with Zarlen, his son by a mortal woman. Scorned by Nyalda and her kin, Zarlen struggles to make a place for himself in his father's tribe. He exiles himself to a life of constant wandering. By separating himself from them he makes himself invaluable to them, as the scout and explorer they need.
One day Elmal returned from a raid with more than treasure. On the back of his fiery horse rode a boy whose hair shone just like his. The people stared in amazement. No mortal could stand to ride Elmal's horse, wreathed as it was in flames. Yet here was this boy, whose flesh did not burn, whose brows did not singe, hands clasped around Elmal's waist.
Nyalda was never a fool and when Elmal returned to their home she looked hard at the boy, whose nose was as straight and bold as her husband's, whose eyes glittered with an eager intensity she recognized all too well.
Before Elmal could hide him from her sight, Nyalda demanded to know who this boy was. The child, who had not shrunk from the heat of Elmal's horse, withered under the force of the Earth Mother's words.
"This is Zarlen," said Elmal. "I found him among the Chariots. Although they pay me homage, and although I commanded them to treat Zarlen well, they disobeyed. You can be sure I punished their disobedience. For ten seasons I shall afflict their fields with drought. And also I have taken this boy away from them."
Nyalda frowned. "Drought will kill barley I have blessed. And this boy, it seems the Wheels do not want him. Who are you punishing—them, or us?"
Elmal grew hot. "I am chieftain, and if I say the boy stays, he stays."
"Well, he can stay in someone else's home."
So Elmal took the boy to live with Hyalor, who was like him in many ways. Hyalor's latest young wife, Vashya, took pity on the boy. She saw him for what he was—a divided being, neither god nor mortal, neither Rider nor Wheel. Vashya, who had not yet borne a child for Hyalor, treated him as her child. She coaxed him into speaking of his dead mother, the Wheel Witch. The Wheels had disdained and feared her. Afraid to abuse her, they had bullied her son instead, refusing to let him anywhere near their chariots.
Zarlen tried to fit among his new clan. Haylor kept the boy at a remove, as he had learned to do in a long life in which he had outlived more sons, grandsons, and great grandsons than he cared to count. He told Gamari to grant Zarlen a fine mare, Wandering Star, then left him to fend for himself.
Nor would the gods of Nyalda's retinue acknowledge him. Busenari made sure he was the last to drink from her bowl. Pela gave him only crusts. When Inilla dropped berries into his hand, she left the stems and worms in.
He fared no better with the Fire side of the family. Relandar said he lacked a place in the heavens. Osara wanted no half-brother. Verlaro feared that Zarlen would outshine him, and so encouraged him in laziness and dissolution. Zarlen saw this false friendship for what it was.
So he embraced his solitude.
"The freedom of a Rider is the freedom of the clan," said his horse, Wandering Star. "But you will find your freedom away from your clan."
The two of them journeyed far from Elmal's lands. Zarlen learned to keep the world in his head, memorizing landmarks and distances. He recalled the Far Provisioning secret, which the Wheels tried to keep from him. It allowed him to take as much on a horse as his mother's people would on one of their carts. He enlarged this secret, changing it into the Pathfinder blessing.
One day they even discovered a secret withheld from the rest of the Sky Court: how to ride atop the dark clouds churned up by Rams. Wandering Star occulted her cloak of light, allowing them to sneak into the encampment of Hurt-Everything, a powerful Ram lord, brother to the Rebel himself. They heard him planning to destroy Elmal and tear apart his solar mantle. Zarlen shot an arrow at Hurt-Everything. It struck him but lightly at first. The Ram lord laughed, until the arrowhead wandered further into his flesh, toward his heart.
Zarlen knew even this would only slow such a fearsome battle god and fled at speed. Hurt-Everything's children gave furious pursuit. Freeze Everything tried to fix him to a glacier. Chase-Everything sent ravening beasts to nip at Wandering Star's hooves. Worse was Hide-Everything, who led him into a maze of fog.
All of these he escaped, to arrive at Elmal's fort.
"I thought we were rid of you," Verlaro sulked
"I imagined you had joined the ranks of my outlived descendants," Hyalor said.
"There is still no place for you here," Relandar chimed in.
But Osara detected the fire in his eyes and asked what sights they had seen. Zarlen told her, and together they rode to Elmal's side to deliver the warning.
Elmal made a ditch of fire and a wall of light. When the Hurt-Everything clan arrived to kill him, all the Sky Court was ready to fight. They drove off the Rams, who howled and yowled but could not get in.
Nyalda then enfolded Zarlen in her arms, saying that without him, her husband would now be as dead as Yelm. "In gratitude, I shall relent, and invite you to join my household as if you were my blood son."
Zarlen shook his head. "I have found the place where I can best serve." He gestured in the four directions. "Blessed Mother, it is everywhere else."