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This is part of Jane's series of "Twelve Days of Stories" for Xmas 2007/2008.

Two turtle doves

Once upon a time there were two clans who, despite being in the same tribe, kept feuding. Oh, it was never enough to go to full war, but they feuded over access to the woods, they feuded over what Helga's great-grandmother had said to Ruric's second cousin, they feuded over who'd put too many fishtraps in the stream, and especially, they feuded over exactly where the boundary between their tulas should be. Fortunately, each clan had a good healer, or otherwise all the minor injuries that came about as a result of all the fighting could have damaged the clans, and perhaps even the tribe.

Alebard was the healer for the High Pines clan, and Elnor for the Bluethorn. Every year, they met at the White Lady's rites, and exchanged exasperated remarks about the refusal of their respective clans to see the benefits of peace, and every year, they parted again, because visiting each other while their clans were feuding would cause even more trouble. Sometimes Alebard's dove companion Columbia would fly to Elnor carrying a herb she needed, sometimes her own soul-mate Strepto would fly to Alebard with news of an illness that was spreading through the clans, but they themselves stayed apart.

One year, at the tribal moot, the king decided that he had had enough of this feuding. His loremaster gave a ruling on who could use which bit of the woods. He persuaded Helga and Ruric to exchange gifts and agree to be friends. If the High Pines caught too many fish in their traps, he said they had to give some of them to the Bluethorn. But the matter of the boundary was difficult: the boundary stones had been moved many times, and different loremasters saw different things when they tried to See where they had started. The one thing they knew was that by tradition, the boundary was exactly half-way between the centres of the two tulas: but no-one could even agree on where the centres were, and if they could, finding the point exactly half-way between them would be hard.

Strepto flew down to Alebard's shoulder and purred to him, and Columbia likewise flew to Elnor. No-one else present could tell the two turtle-doves apart, so they did not know that a plan was being discussed. "I know where the centre of our tula must be," said Alebard. "The High Pines are good Orlanthi, and know the importance of protecting a healer. The centre of our tula, the point best protected from attack, is where I dwell: and since the Bluethorn, despite their faults, are also good Orlanthi, I would guess that where Elnor dwells is likewise the centre of their tula."

Since this praised them, no-one present wished to argue with that, and the king agreed that this was a good definition. But there was still the question of finding the point that was exactly halfway: the steep hills and woods between them made measurement hard. Again, the doves flew between their soul-mates and purred into their ears. "I have an idea," said Elnor. "The flight of a dove is not affected by hills, or trees. If Columbia and Strepto leave my home and Alebard's at the same time: at dawn, perhaps? then the spot where they meet will be exactly half-way between the clan centres."

There was some argument about this, but mainly about what time was the right one to start the flight, as dawn came earlier in the valley than in the shadow of the mountains, but eventually it was agreed that this was a good idea, and that they would start at noon. The doves flew, the clansmen followed them as best they could, and at last Alebard and Elnor met at a little glen with a stream running through it, where Columbia and Strepto sat together in a tree, billing and cooing as doves do. All that remained was to mark the boundary in a way that could not be moved or mistaken. And here Alebard and Elnor were at a loss, for everything the clansmen suggested involved harming the land, and their doves could not advise them on a thing that is not in the nature of doves.

But the king had perhaps guessed a little of what Columbia and Strepto had done: his own hawk had been eyeing them thoughtfully (and perhaps a little hungrily: but that is in the nature of hawks). He said that he would sponsor a healing shrine on this spot, where Alebard and Elnor could work together: since, now that the two clans were at peace, this was the point furthest from their combined borders, and therefore the safest to be found. Alebard and Elnor looked at the spot where their doves had chosen to meet, and agreed at once.

The shrine was built, and was guarded by warriors from both clans. And the marriage of Alebard and Elnor was just the first of those that marked the new peace between the clans, that the doves had brought about.