Dornaa would not listen. It was unlike her to be so disobedient, and the matron lost all patience. The little Draenei had been playing outside for hours, the first warm spring day in weeks, the first day with real, pure sunshine, and when it grew dark, she pretended not to hear the matron call her in. The streetlamps went on. The merchants pulled in their wares. The beasts in the forest began snarling, and the carousers in the inns began drinking. Nothing was safe now. Still, Dornaa did not come home. Beginning to feel terrified, the matron, Mercy, felt at once anger and despair. When the guards were about to be notified, Dornaa snuck in through the side door, only to find Mercy, arms akimbo, and angry fire in her eyes. She swooped up Dornaa and swatted her backside. She had never struck a child before. The look of betrayal on Dornaa’s face crushed her.
Mercy left the house in order to cool down. The other matrons tucked Dornaa in, even though she smelled of dirty skin, sweat, and spring air. Dornaa grumbled tough curses under her breath about “How sorry she would be” and the injustice of the spanking. But she hurt, too. The matron was warmth, hugs, love, and stories. She supposed there would be no story tonight, and she didn’t deserve one.
Relieved that she was safe, and guilty over striking the child, Mercy could not sleep unless she checked in on her favorite child. She sat on Dornaa’s bed, and Dornaa rolled over, tear-streaked little face, sniffling, and grabbed Mercy with her whole self. “You scared me, little one. That’s why I got so angry. Please don’t ever scare me like that again.”
“I am sorry. I was stubborn and didn’t want to come in.”
“Well, let me tell you of another stubborn little kid, Dornaa.”
When Kafi was a kid, bleating and ramming his horns, he wanted more than anything to be the Father of the Mountain. As it was, his father had ruled over the mountaintop for as long as memory, and goats’ memories are exceptionally long. They remember every insult, challenge, or defeat. But most importantly, they remember victories, and hang onto them with all that they are. The victories were their pride, and pride was everything.
The Father of the Mountain ruled over the herd for so long that even the mountain had grown familiar with his command. Each day he awoke to his crisp blue kingdom of gold and rock on the mountaintop: he knew it was his sovereign right to be there, to defend and protect the nannies and kids from the prowling leopards and ferocious yetis. The yetis could decimate a herd in minutes, ripping through flesh eating goats pelt, horns, and all. He must defend them all, and over time believed he was the most capable, most courage Father of the Mountain the gods had ever chosen to rule.
Zìháo never faltered in his duties, but he never relinquished them either. Many a young buck would challenge him in the spring, vying for his position of power and glory, and would be sent careening off the sides, skittering for purchase with their novice hooves. It was normal and expected that every spring this would happen: it was known that for the good of the herd, if the Father of the Mountain could not protect them, he should fall. This was the way, and the way of his father, and father before him.
When a challenger would shamefully climb down from the mountainside on the easy path, he would tell them:
Someday I’ll give up the mountain
But today is not that day
Someday you’ll be where I am
But for now, get out of my way
One spring, Zìháo surveyed his herd and noticed his youngest son, Kafi, ramming horns with the other bucks. It did not pass his notice, either, that Kafi looked back up at him and did not gaze down quickly. This one—this one didn’t know his place.
Over time, Kafi grew stronger and bolder. Before he was full grown, he asked his mother if he was ready to challenge Zìháo. His mother told him, “There are two paths to the top, Kafi. The easy one and the difficult one: the easy one will never reach your father, but the difficult one will. When you can reach him, you will only be ready to challenge him. It does not mean you will beat him. And my son, it is a long way down.”
Kafi found the easy path up the hill soon enough, and it didn’t seem all the easy to him. Yes, there were many delicious flowers to eat in the nooks of the rocks, and the grass was softer on his hooves, but there were steep bluffs, but over time he scaled them as if he were an bird. He would hate to know what the difficult path looked like. He finally found a spot where the easy path stopped, and he could go no further. Unless he grew wings he would never reach the top this way. He heard his father’s voice just over the edge. An eagle was speaking to him, saying another had stolen his nest, asking for Zìháo’s advice. Kafi was confused. He thought his father just stood on the mountaintop all day, lording over all those beneath him. Zìháo gave the eagle some wise advice, (something about creating a new nest and life for himself) and off the eagle flew. Kafi climbed down.
The next spring, Kafi climbed back up the easy path, thinking he might be able to short cut the path to his father. He came to the same impossible edge, and could go no further. He heard his father speaking to tolai hare, humbly asking for forgiveness because she had eaten all of the silkweed meant for the warren’s supper. Zìháo told her to go and replace as much as she could, and not take another helping until the debt was repaid. Kafi climbed down the mountain.
This year, Kafi was larger, and stronger. He went up the easy path again, and met the same obstacle. A fox kit, wounded from a hunter’s misguided arrow, sought Zìháo for healing advice. Kafi was flummoxed. His father knew about healing, too? The fox kit ate some berries, bound his wound with silkweed, and seemed no worse for wear. He hopped down on the ledge where Kafi stood, looking at him quizzically. “Why are you standing here, when you could be standing next to your father?”
Kafi told the kit he was stuck, and could not figure out another way to seek his father, and ultimately challenge him. The fox told him, “The difficult path is just on the other side; try that way.”
Climbing down the mountain once more, he sought the difficult path. This path railed against all logic: overhangs, steep bluffs, thorns, nettles, and biting beasts. Bitter cold wind sliced his pelt, making him feel like he was held down by the shearer’s blade. Just when he thought he could go no further, the mountain leveled out, and there was a smooth, soft path to his father’s throne.
What Kafi did not know was that Zìháo was ready to relinquish his rule. He had watched his stubborn son grow into a leader. He still wasn’t quite ready yet, and must be tested. He had strength, he had desire, but did he have humility?
“Father, it is time.” Kafi stood his ground.
“So be it. There is grey in my beard, and my hooves aren’t as sharp as they once were. But I can still outrun, out climb, and out maneuver you. Whoever is the last ram standing, until the sun rises on the red flag, will be our herd’s new leader.”
A battle of rams is a terrifying site. The horns clash like thunder and the hooves shred the earth like a thousand mounted soldiers, with bloodlust and rage. Kafi did not realize his father was still so powerful. Each pushed forward with no quarter for the other. But youth began to win out over experience, just an edge, and an edge was all Kafi needed. Blindly he rammed Zìháo once, twice, and again. Zìháo was bleeding, bruised, and broken. The sun rose on the red flag: the battle was finished.
This is not what Kafi wanted. He wanted his father to continue to guide him, provide wisdom.
He bowed to him. Zìháo pulled up short, barely knocking Kafi to the ledge.
“Father, I seek your advice. I want to be a great leader for our people, but I am not sure what is the right path. How do I lead them and keep them safe, as you have done?”
Zìháo knew Kafi did not really need his advice; he was allowing him to save face, to save his dignity. His pride of being the Father of the Mountain gave way to being Kafi’s father.
“Son, you may rule the mountain.”
And with that, Zìháo went down the easy path, and lived the rest of his days with the herd, respected and loved. Kafi still rules the top of the mountain to this day, and if you challenge him, you may think you’ve won, but he’s just allowing you to think so.
The moral of this story is, it is prideful to beat our enemies with all that we have, but worthy of pride to win with dignity.
Dornaa was asleep. Mercy thought to herself, “Yes, that is a tiresome story when you’re young.”
Years later, training as a young shaman in Azuremyst, Dornaa bested every beast, every challenge, and every obstacle with ease. She began to think there was no stopping her, and nothing she couldn’t do. She was mining some ore and slipped down a cliff, not hurt but embarrassed, and she hoped no one saw her fall.
She still had some things to learn.
On Tuesday night, I was playing Dornaa, and another player spotted her as a I was about to log off, and seemed absolutely thrilled to see her–she hugged Dornaa, waved, waved some more…she never whispered or anything, but stood jumping in the inn for about five or more minutes.
It was probably because she recognized Dornaa’s name from being a world-famous NPC. Must admit that was kind of fun.