Soleia enters the tent. Her face falls in pure relief at the sight of me. Without any thought, I rush to her.
Her arms open to me, an embrace that I was not expecting.
Her tears come freely, her sobs shaking her whole body as we both fall to our knees upon the floor.
“Mikabellum...I thought...” she continues crying, unable to get the rest of her words out.
She looks up at me, and a sudden pain comes to my chest at the sight of this woman shedding tears for me.
“They took you away. They wouldn’t let me see you. I didn’t know what they were doing or how you were and they...” she shakes her head, her sudden burst of emotion quickly dissolving as she hastily wipes away her tears.
“Thank you.” It’s all I can whisper to her as she covers her face with her hands. She nods at my words, inhaling deeply before rising to stand. I stand with her, staring at her, evaluating her. I had never thought Soleia cared so much for me. I had guarded my feelings so closely that it had prevented me from seeing.
“I apologize, Mikabellum.”
She walks past me. It is only then that I notice the box she has picked up from the floor.
I look curiously at it. A sad smile comes across her face. “There is a guest,” she whispers. “The Great Leader has brought a tribe back. Their leader is here within our camp. I was ordered to...prepare you.”
A tribe. He brought a tribe back. Was that his mission? Was that where he had been at? What he had been doing? But how? He had left his army, all his men- the best men- to guard me. He had no forces for conquering. He had taken nothing to cause war. Only himself. But then...he was more the embodiment of war than even I- the goddess of such a thing – was.
I remain quiet as Soleia pulls gently the different fabrics. I am expecting the garments from when I had been tossed into battle. I am expecting the crimson red- that burning robe of the phoenix- to hit my eyes. The circle of the sun to crown my head.
But Soleia surprises me. From her hands a coating of gold lays. It is dull and worn, something that seems rustic and full of age and abandonment.
Gems of green stud under the eyes, spikes of violence rising to be above the wearer, and a rivet of chains hang to fall down to the chest.
It is a violent instrument. A violent looking headgear that has me unconsciously taking a step back.
Soleia does not notice my reaction. She continues to pull out the rest of the charade. Robes that are so white- they blind me- come from her box. She is careful. So very careful. Even the dust that collects upon our feet is an enemy towards the pureness.
“Who...who is here...what tribe?”
It is a useless question. I know none of the nomadic tribes. Whatever name Soleia gives me will be useless towards my survival.
She looks up at me, her lips curving even further down. “I tried to find out all I could for you, Mikabellum. All I know is, his people use the title of Prince before his name, and he has traveled far to be here. I cannot think to believe that he may be one of the actual prince’s of one of the four kingdoms....but...if I had to guess...based upon his looks he may be from Musgar.”
“Which animal is that?” I ask. I had only been able to memorize the kingdoms from the animals that went with each after Soleia had told me the story of the lonely woman.
“Dragonfly,” Soleia answers. She pauses in her movements to stare at me. A question is in her eyes. I can tell she is wanting to ask something from me. Wanting to have a curiosity of hers be satisfied. But she holds back whatever words and instead turns back to the clothing.
Like the clothes from battle, this garment was meant to be worn in the same way. Each was an armor. Each had a meaning. Soleia did not know the symbols upon the robes. She had no words to tell me of their origin, no pretty lies to spin as she dressed me to be the part.
She only remained silent, her face closing off from me with each added layer.
Until the final one.
The headpiece. The first thing that had been brought to my attention.
I stare at it now, looking at the covering, and wondering how I would be able to see from it.
Soleia approaches me, rising on her feet to place it over my head.
Once again, I was merging into the culture of the Onism. I was hiding away my flesh, covering it with lies. The whiteness would blind them. The purity would let them know. The darkness had been covered. They could not see me. Only the woven truth.
I could barely see out of it. The heavy metal rested on me, a weight that seemed to push down my whole body, making it sink into the ground. Swallow me whole, the shadows cast from the crown seemed to say, step into the darkness and swallow me whole.
Soleia bows. She lowers her head and something comes over me as the weight of the fabric sends an unknown strength into my soul.
Look at me. Look at me. You can’t look away, can you? It was screaming at the people now, the truth to believe in me. Believe in me....how could you not?
I took a step, watching as the cover to the tent was parted. There was no one waiting. Nothing but silence greeted me.
And as I stepped slowly out into the night, even though my robes were pure and unstained- I felt like a shadow. Something above this earth. Maybe I had descended to be death. Just a whisper coming in the dark, walking among you, unseen, and unheard.
Their heads turn and then fall. Their knees are bent. Their eyes do not rise.
Each step I take is painfully slow. Only the noise of the robe trailing after me, as it scrapes the dirt, and lets the stain of filth begin its natural course.
Soleia leads me to them. I follow her and do not look to anyone else as slowly a row is formed of their bodies submitting to mine.
They whisper my name now. Unlike this morning when it had been a shout, a cry- this was a prayer.
It was soft, almost unheard. It was said in reverence and awe. It was pushed past the lips with the thinnest of air- you did not want others to hear your struggles of composure, your fall from grace when something so divine stood in your way.
They are waiting. I can see them at the front of the Great Leader’s tent.
Jesper is the first to kneel. This surprises Hirog and Nash. I see their eyes connect to each other before slowly going down as well.
And then I see the guest Soleia had told me of.
It is a contrast.
He stood, shoulder to shoulder by the Great Leader who was dressed all in black. But this man was an embodiment of the sun. His skin had been kissed by the glow of its light and even now, it shone out clearly in the night.
It was as if the moon and its counterpart were standing side by side. As if the sun really was there, and the darkness next to it was its shadow.
A light, that also must have a darkness.
His skin was exposed, the sun-kissed beauty still able to be seen in the darkness of the night. Hair that may have been golden, or could possibly be brown like the earth. It was hard to tell in this fading light and with the distance stretched between us- but I thought it could be both.
He was a male who was like the earth, streaked in gold.
Like the sun.
I stop in front of them.
I can see the faintest surprise in both of their eyes. Only my lips can be seen in their view, and I twist it now into a secretive smile.
I am seated in between the two males. It is just the three of us within the tent.
The foreign male seems uneasy. He bows his head slightly towards me. I remain silent, unable to think of any action to match his own. I only continue to watch him. It’s only then that I realize how unnerving the mask I wear actually could be. I looked sinister. As if Roark had wanted to move me closer to the title of war goddess than that of love. I was not something that created love.
I was only born from darkness and fear.
And this male seemed to realize it.
“I wish...I could see her face...” He is staring at Roark now, something unknown in his words as he continues to meet the Great Leader’s gaze.
Before Roark can answer I interrupt.
Both males look at me, but it is all I say.
The other male seems even more shaken by my single word. He quickly exhales, his body unconsciously moving slightly further away from me.
His accent surprises me. It was foreign. Strange. The words he has spoken sounded unsure for many reasons. As if the formation of the sentence itself was something he did not want to fumble. I stare at him even more closely now, trying to piece together this situation.
Roark interrupts my thoughts though, “Do you believe me?”
It is obvious that I am being excluded from this conversation. The golden male looks at me quickly before nodding his head.
Roark’s eyes seem to dance with greed and happiness- but there is something cold in his pleasure. This was all strange and vague. I had no idea what the situation was unfolding to be. I only continued to remain quiet.
And then they begin conversing in another language. It was harsh and rough, and their throats reached back, drawing and straining to receive the sound. It flowed together so well, that for a moment, my own thoughts and words did not seem as poetic or smooth. Maybe choppy- less romantic to the ears.
I feel some anger at this turn of events. Something important was happening. Something I should know. Right before my eyes, something about me was being discussed. I could tell by how they looked at me and the subtlety of their tone
Even if words could not be understood, the language of the body could bring many meanings.
After living with the Onism tribe, I felt I could read the world from any male’s eyes. I could decipher a truth and a lie- love and hate. I could see through their eyes, peering into the soul.
They grow silent after a while, each lost in their own thoughts.
I turn to the male. He seems startled by my sudden attention.
Slowly, cautiously, I raise my hand towards the male. He stills, watching me with mistrusting eyes. My hand continues to move forward, my body leaning more to him and away from the Great Leader. He suddenly catches my hand, his sun eyes that match his hair staring hard at me.
He hesitates before loosening his grip. His hand does not fall from my wrist, and instead lightly stays wrapped around my arm, traveling up the further I go closer to him.
My fingers delicately touch his hair. His eyes seem to soften somewhat as he moves closer to me. I let my fingers play with the strands, noting the color.
“It’s almost like mine.”
He looks down at my own loose strands, the golden waves flowing freely down. His smile is sudden and bright as he reaches and takes a lock of my hair, twisting the thickness around his hand and holding it up against his own.
Almost. The color of his hair is darker, not as pure. There is some gold, but it is blocked out by the brown that is woven in as well.
“Almost,” he whispers, as if reading my thoughts.
I smile up at him. He stares down at me, his gaze suddenly lifting to look at Roark.
The male says something in the harsh language. The coarse language sounds if possible, even harsher in Roark’s mouth as he shakes his head once.
The male only laughs and tilts his head, something dangerous filtering across his face. I turn slightly to look at Roark and to my astonishment, he rises. His motions are quick and angry. I can easily tell this after witnessing it multiple times. He looks at me only once, before walking out of the tent.
The male laughs to himself and slowly, both of his hands go to the crown that is over my eyes.
My thoughts are whirling.
Roark left me. He left me again. He’s gone. I feel bile building up in my throat as the hands from the male touch the headpiece and slowly start to pull it off.
I want to scream at him to stop. I want to stand and walk out and call Roark back.
But I was Mikabellum.
I was Mikabellum.
He takes the mask off, setting it aside and staring for a long time at me.
I stare back, watching him in return.
He surprises me with the unexpected. He takes my head, encompassing both of my cheeks and leans forward to kiss my forehead.
Without another word he puts the crown back on, fixing it into place.
I do not move as he holds my hands, tracing the lines that can be seen on my palms.
“I am going away tomorrow.”
I do not respond.
He only continues to stare down at our hands. He looks up at me, a sudden burning within his eyes.
“Stay with me.”
There is something lost in his voice. Like a child.
I knew upon an instinct that he did not want my body. It was not my flesh that he coveted. It was just my soul. My presence.
“For a price.”
He smiles and nods, “what would a goddess wish for?”
“If I meet you again, I’ll ask it of you.”
He stares at me, looking intently into my face.
“Don’t you want your freedom?”
It is only by the power of the acting I have done these past few months, that I do not react to his sentence.
I look up at him, the only show of my longing in the tightening of my hands as I hold his.
“That is not something you should offer.”
“I can give it to you.”
I shake my head, starting to pull away, but he does not allow me to let go as he moves closer, “I know.”
Know? Know what?
A panicked thought hits me then that this is a test. This is a test from the Great Leader. A stranger offers me my freedom. A stranger offers me the choice. What would you choose? Would you betray your people?
He stares at me, a frustration rising in his eyes that he quickly pushes down as he instead nods and slowly turns away.
“Will you stay?”
I want to ask so much more from this male. I want to know his name. I want to know where he is from. Why he is here. But he has set me on alert. I do not trust him. I cannot trust him.
We read the same thing in both of our eyes as I respond, “I will stay.”
And silently, without another word, he puts dirt over the fire, and the darkness surrounds us.
It is strange.
I had not attracted much attention in my village.
Though, I assumed this was due to my foreign appearance- strange looks and delicate lean frame that never really had fit into the mountains- the villagers had pronounced me at an early age to be unattractive.
That the presence of these males is so reoccurring.
Was it not my hair, eyes, or my body itself- but the power?
Was it the power that attracted them?
I knew of women who were drawn to such a thing. I had observed it in my village when the oldest son of the Thrisant family was looking for a wife. He had not been very kind, nor was he pleasant to look at. I had stayed out of his way during his search. But there were many females who did no such thing.
So it is strange.
I stare at the golden male now. He is rising from his sleep, a content smile on his face.
I had stayed awake the whole night, never once moving from my place of watching him. The headpiece had stayed. I had stayed. We had remained, a fixture- a goddess watching over a mortal.
“You did not kill me.”
I tilt my head, my thoughts sluggish and hazy from unfulfilled sleep.
He seems delighted by his words.
Slowly he helps me to stand. I am embarrassed to find that the feelings from my legs have long since fled me. The male presses his fingers to the flesh, rubbing circles up and down to bring back any sensation.
“I would not have harmed you,” he whispers.
He helps me to stand. I am still unable to walk properly, but his smile only grows wider as he leads me out of the tent.
And there is the Great Leader.
He stands at the entrance, arms crossed and waiting.
Nothing in his eyes change as he sees us. But the golden male sees something that I do not. He releases me, causing me to sway unsteadily. Roark takes a step, catching me before I fall.
“What did you do to her?” His voice is a low growl. It’s a promise for pain.
I sigh at his tone, fatigue setting in and making me wary of his sudden changes in mood. I had no energy to handle it.
“She had no sleep.”
There was something dark and seductive in the golden male’s voice. Something shocking enough in his tone and words that causes me to jerk my head around quickly to scowl at him.
His smile is focused only on me.
There is a silence. I do not look up to see what expression Roark’s eyes hold.
But the grip around me tightens.
Without another word Roar lifts me, carrying me away. I see Hirog moving to stand guard beside the golden male, his eyes glaring at the still grinning sun.
When we finally reach another tent, I sigh in relief. Roark hears this.
I wait until we are inside before saying anything.
Quickly I hold up a hand, “Nothing happened.”
I move to the blankets, my feet dragging.
I turn to face him. He is looking at me, a wave of dark anger in his eyes.
Slowly I remove the headpiece to stop it from obscuring my vision- a headache forming because of its long placement.
“I am tired.”
“You did not sleep.”
He can see the dark bruises under my eyes. He can see the truth.
But something in me cracks at his anger.
“You left me.”
I see raw shock run through him but before he can process it, I am flaring- a sudden flame that had been left unattended. I was consuming everything now. The anger inside me was too great.
“You left me once! And then you left me twice!”
I rush to him, a violent storm, pressing into his face as I hiss, “You would leave your goddess in the hands of your enemy? Do you have that much faith in me? In your men? Is this a test? A game to you?”
I tried to recall a time I had spoken to him in this way.
But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t remember a moment before this when he had stayed silent, and such a vulnerable, and open look was staring back at me.
“You have no right to be angry when you are the one to cause this,” my finger prods his chest with each word that is spoken.
“I am your goddess and you abandoned me. I have no loyalties to a male who cannot keep his emotions in check over something that is not his!”
My words ring out. And then silence.
Nothing but dead, ringing silence.
I am panting, my exhaustion evident and clear as my legs tremble where I stand. There is fear also in my movement. Fear that he will lash out at me. Fear because my anger was shown in words. But I knew how this male- and many males like him- expressed their rage.
One knee is lowered.
I stare at the clothed head. Eyes are to the ground, looking away from me.
My mind goes blank. The great leader. This was the Great Leader? This was Roark?
His hands reach for mine. He holds it there in both of his and kisses the top. The clothing that separates flesh from flesh does nothing to stop the heat that had suddenly come over me.
He presses the hand to his forehead. Still, his eyes are to the ground. Still, he has not yet looked up.
It is only then that I realize he will not look up, and will not feel the right to do so until I give him what he keeps asking for.
“But why?” I whisper.
He tenses. And in a hushed voice, he says, ”serva me, servabo te.”
The words are foreign and ancient to my ears. They hold a larger meaning, one that I feel as his grip upon my hand tightens. It is more profound than a man upon his knees. It is more encompassing than the act of giving forgiveness.
And I wish I knew, as I pulled my hand from his, and set it to rest on the top of his head. I wish I knew what they meant. I wish I did not feel like a piece within a game. And somehow, I was not the main part, nor did I take up a small role. I was the middle in a connection that stretched to all.
“Only once. Only this time.”
He stands, looking down at me now.
He takes me into his arms and the weight of my epiphany vanishes.
For a second the only thing I was within this world was a girl wearing white- becoming the moon as the darkness of night wrapped me within his arms.
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