The mountains surrounding her village were often seen by outsiders as obstacle courses to be tackled, challenges to be conquered and boasted about, or avoid in fear. Scary, treacherous, intimidating.
For Ashol-Pan it was her playground: trees to clamber on, caves and shrubs as hiding spots, and the mountains themselves as towers for her to view her world from up high. Just like Ake’s eagle, she imagines.
Today, like many other days, she has accompanied her father to one of his hunts. While he readies his regal golden eagle for today’s hunt - perhaps a fox to replace the tattered fur in his old hat, or a hare for dinner - Ashol-Pan plays explorer, imagining herself as her father’s eagle, traversing great heights and lengths to find sustenance. All in a day’s work.
She swoops close to a nearby plateau, a little too high for her growing body to reach - maybe she’ll grow big enough soon enough. There is a nest sitting on the plateau, filled with cracked eggshell - and on the ground was a tiny ball of mud-brown fluff, pecking curiously at Ashol-Pan’s feet before nuzzling against her ankles.
"Oh, what is this?"
She picks up the fluffball and finds that it is an eaglet, barely a few weeks old, eyes bright and wide. She looks at the eaglet closely and notices that one of its wings seem to be a little bent.
"Oh little one! What has happened to you? Where is your Ake and Ana?"
She looks around for eagles like the one her father has, ones that could be the eaglet’s parents, but she doesn’t see any flying about. She tries to climb up to the plateau for a better, but it’s difficult to scale the rock surface while still holding the eaglet.
Not long after, her own Ake comes for her.
"Ashol-Pan! Where are you? It’s time to go home!"
Her father sees her try to reach the plateau, almost dangling off the edge. He grabs Ashol-Pan off the plateau and sets her safely on the ground.
"What were you trying to do, Ashol-Pan? You could have fallen and hurt yourself!"
"I was trying to help it, Abba," says Ashol-Pan, showing him the eaglet she has cupped in her hands. "I think it is hurt, its wings are not right. I wanted to find its Ake and Ana, maybe they can help him."
"It’s a good thing I came to find you, or else your legs would be just like his wing,” replies her father. He looks at the nest on the plateau - a little too far away even for his grown-up body. Just as he does so, a large golden eagle, about the same size as Ashol-Pan, flies by, a rabbit in its claws. Ashol-Pan sees the ribbon on the eagle’s foot; it’s her father’s hunting eagle.
"Could your eagle be its Ake?" asks Ashol-Pan, holding up the eaglet to its elder self. Her father’s eagle peers at the not-quite-fluffball-anymore but there does not seem to be any recognition.
"It would have to be its Ana, dear girl - all hunting eagles are female," answers her father. "Even so, I don’t think they’re related. My eagle comes from further away, and besides, she would not have laid eggs here when she has been with us for some time."
Ashol-Pan looks at the eaglet, who looks back at her with perhaps a sense of sadness - or longing - or some care-for-me plea only baby eaglets have. If this little one has no Ake or Ana…who will take care of it?
"Can we take it home, Ake?" asks Ashol-Pan. "Just like you bring home your baby eaglets?"
Ashol-Pan’s father takes a closer look at the eaglet. “Usually we take in strong, healthy eaglets,” he replies. “The hurt ones don’t make good hunters.”
"But we can help it get better! Like how I got better when I hurt my leg or arm, we can do that! Then it can be a good hunter!" says Ashol-Pan. "Please, Ake, please?"
Ashol-Pan’s father thinks for a moment. He’s trained and taken in many eagles since he was a young boy, barely older than his daughter now. He has helped heal broken wings or talons before, but that was a sign of the eagle’s end of service; he’d never trained an injured eagle to hunt before. And again, the weaker eaglets don’t usually get selected anyway.
He sees the look in his daughter’s eyes, matching the face of the eaglets. Whatever kind of plea the eaglet’s making, Ashol-Pan’s picked up on it.
Maybe just for a while.
"OK, we can keep and care for this one here," says her father, "but once it is healthy it is time to let them go. And you have to make sure you take care of it well. I can help and teach you, of course, but this little one is your responsibility. Understand?"
Ashol-Pan was beaming; she could swear the eaglet was smiling too.
After dinner that night - the roasted hare captured by her father’s eagle - Ashol-Pan fashioned a small nest out of some nearby leaves and twigs, and sets the eaglet gently inside. She then finds some gold thread, leftover from her Ana’s sewing efforts, and - following in her father’s footsteps - ties the string around its leg; a difficult endeavour, given the size of the eaglet, but one she manages after a while.
"There you go, Altyn," naming her eaglet. "As bright as the gold string around you."