They all stood silent, surrounding the cold village hearth. Ashes from the smothered fire had been flung and smeared on each tear stained face. The drums had stopped, revealing the far off sound of slowly approaching hoofbeats.
Steam rose through the icy cold dusk from the nostrils of the horses, who, heads bobbing in unison, walked toward the center, where the Tribe waited. A white owl hooted from the top of a tree, but as the party approached she too fell into respectful silence.
The party of warriors stopped and dismounted. Others led the horses, all but one, away to the corral. The warriors made two lines, one on either side of the big bay mare, and lifted the poles that held the shield in place. The horse was led away, and the warriors lowered their burden to chest level, revealing the prone body of the fallen one.
She lay on her back. Her right hand, made into a fist, lay over her left breast in the ancient salute of the guardian. Her left hand rested on the blood soaked sword.
The warriors moved as one, carrying their fallen hera home. They placed her, still on her shield, onto the wooden framework that bridged the span of the now cold fire ring. They made no sound. They said no words. As one, they stepped back and made their salute. Rivulets of tears made their way down many of the dirty faces.
She had fallen but would be honored. She had fought bravely for all of her short life. She had defended her Priestess and her Tribe. And now her comrades, her bredin had brought her home. The guardians had completed their duty to their fallen sister.
No one alive save the guardians themselves knew what rituals or traditions they observed out in the field before they had come. The people knew only that the warriors had sent a messenger earlier in the day, asking the Priestesses to prepare for the return.
The Priestesses and Shamans would take over now, and work the magic that would assist the fallen hera across the rainbow bridge, into the ethera and on to her next assignment.
In love and blood, go in peace, my friend. You are honored and loved, and will be remembered for the warrior whom you have come to know yourself to be. We see you. We honor you. Good journey, friend.