"And he returns with bounty in tow!" the man, Kuruk, applauded.
"He bears the gait of a man now, brother," the girl said, smiling. Her name was Winona.
"Indeed," Kuruk nodded. "He'll be our peer next time we see him."
Tasuneke couldn't help but blush under their scrutiny. But then he remembered blushing wasn't masculine, so instead he kept walking straight and nodded a quick "Happy Dawn of Night" as he passed. By tradition, returning from the forest successful made you a man, but the ceremony took place for formality's sake.
Down the main path of the village, he could see the dark silhouette of the Temple of Whispers, where the ceremony would take place. Moonlight shone through the vines down the path, twisting shadows outlining the huts and fields beyond. Torches were lit along the path, as well, with long poles carved into decorative patterns that danced in the flickering light of the fire. News spread quick of Tasuneke's return, and the plaza in front of the Temple soon filled with townsolk, crowding ahead of the ring of torches.
As he approached, the outline of his mother appeared at the foot of the Temple, standing next to the village elder, Aranak, and behind the Brazier of Renewal. It sent chills down his spine to see the brazier filled with kindling. It would be his bonfire today.
This was the moment he had been waiting for all his life.