My horror increases when we come upon a thousand flames.
The leader had only taken a handful of men to attack our village.
The true power of his force rested easy. I don’t want to ask how many he has amassed. I don’t even want to ask how it is possible for this large a number to come together.
What about food?
What about water?
How were so many fed and treated?
How did they move such a hoard? And why...why...why did they even need this army in the first place.
“Are you impressed Mikabellum?”
I don’t say anything. The male leans forward and repeats his question.
“What am I to be impressed about?”
He stills. I still also. My nerves were shot. My words jumbled out before I could process them. To my surprise, he only laughs.
“A number is only a number to you then. I will have to prove that I deserve a the goddess of war.”
I swallow unevenly, lost in how I could pull off such a lie to this tribe. I knew nothing about their goddess.
Whatever information I received, I needed to take it in and remember.
A goddess of war then.
War certainly seemed to be the leading component here.
Males- all dressed in the same garb as the warriors and leader- stopped to stare at me.
They followed the leader’s horse. I realize they were progressing into the heart of the camp, clogging the paths with their excitement and running to grab others.
The procession stops. The leader dismounts and grabs me from the waist, lifting me from the animal and setting me down next to him.
The crowd waits in silence.
I see now that women are here. What I thought to be just a camp of males is not true. Just as many females graced their presence- but unlike the males they were hardly clothed. Just my tunic and long pants had me feeling overdressed.
They wore simple straps around their chest- the material going around their breast and displaying the full of their stomach.
Their legs were exposed in two long slits that went up the sides. The skirt-like fabric was covered in many prints of various animals. I couldn’t take my eyes away from how differently the two sexes seemed to present themselves.
My examination is only broken when the leader raises his voice.
“I, Roark- ruler of Onism and the west nomads have brought back a blessing.” He positions me to stand in front of him, “Mikabellum!” His shout is received with a joyful cry from the onlookers as they repeat the name back, “Mikabellum!”
A roaring cheer cascades down as the tribe shouts their approval. Some have tears in their eyes. Others fall to the ground.
I watch wide-eyed in startled disbelief that such a name could cause this reaction.
“I have found Mikabellum and now- I ask that she stay with us and guide our conquest.”He addresses me now, bending to be eye level.
“Mikabellum...will you grace us with your divination. Will you stand by me as I crack this world and pillage from it all the glory I can grip?”
“Yes,” I whisper. Of course, I would say so. I had no doubt they would kill me on the spot if I said anything else.
A startled scream leaves me as the male yells in my face, turning to bellow at the crowd. His reaction is all they need to show that I have agreed.
Soon they are yelling with him.
The noise sends my flesh to rise. It was a blood-curdling scream, one that could wake the dead and possess them to reemerge and avenge their souls with a bitter thirst for broken flesh. This scream possessed the same haunted vibrance.
The crowd disperses- others running off while snarls of savage thirst still could be heard repeating in the night.
“Come Mikabellum.” The male pulls me into the large tent. I already felt fear, but that sensation doubled when I spied the mats and pillows that took up a large portion of the structure’s floor.
“Mikabellum- grant me this night with you. Grant me-” he bends to be eye level with me, his eyes move alive than I have ever seen them as a black fire rages inside, “grant me the privilege of making you mine.”
We both stare at each other in shock.
I quickly slap a hand over my mouth. What have I done? What have I done?
Before I can take back my single word- he laughs.
“Catina- why do you deny me?”
How would a goddess of war act? I picture Kaleen and how she addressed the boys within the village. The words she said that drove them crazy yet kept them at bay.
I feel a smile pull up at my lips. What would she do in this moment?
Probably not deny the leader.
His eyes widen at my change in demeanor.
“Silly male. I’m no ones. Do not assume that you can own me.” My voice shakes at the end. It was all I could do to keep my composure.
Kaleen. Think of Kaleen.
Roark leans closer, “Forgive me Mikabellum.”
The soft husk of his voice claws against my chest. There is no room for me to imagine how he looks. But that voice. That voice alone could do wonders to my mind.
I don’t say anything. He pulls back, shaking his head at my silence.
“I’m tired.”Any moment now he would give me what I wanted in the worst possible way by taking the weapon on his hip and cutting me down.
He surprises me though and moves to open the entrance.
“Of course- consider this your tent Mikabellum. Anything you need or require you have only to ask.”
I want to ask where he will be sleeping. It’s obvious that this is his place of rest, but before I can he is gone, the entrance to the tent swaying in the fading wind.
My rest was not peaceful.
I had little sleep and anxiously kept my eye on the entrance. I often jumped at any noise, picturing it to be Roark going back on his decision or another warrior wanting a ‘night with a goddess.’
The moment daylight breaks through the cracks of the frame, a sigh of relief leaves me.
I don’t leave the tent though. It’s not until a woman comes in with a bowl of food that I move from my curled position.
I look at the dried meat and tentatively take a bite.
The woman is making me nervous. Her eyes flicker up to my face before landing back down my body. Curling and inspecting every inch.
“You’re not a goddess.”
The words scare me so much that I end up dropping the meat I am eating.
I move away from her, quickly putting distance between us.
She holds her hands up in defence, her stance changing into one of open apology.
“I’m sorry it’s just- I’m not…” her face morphs into deep concentration until she speaks again, “I married into the Onism tribe. I can see that you are not what they speak of. You’re just a scared woman.”
“Will you tell them?” I immediately curse myself. I should have acted indifferent and said she was wrong. Instead, I gave away my act.
“No.” I look at her suspiciously.
“Because...well you being here is more motivating than you will probably ever realize.”
I move closer to her, stopping short a few feet.
“What do you want?”
“To help you.”
I stare at her in shock, repeating my question again.
She moves closer. I flinch as she takes my hand, but she only makes a soothing sound, trying to ease my anxiety that is leaking out.
“You are something they need. They need you, to push themselves. You can’t see the change, but just a few short hours of your presence has already…” her musing trails off as she looks back to me. “I know the truth though. And I know it will break many if they find out you are a fraud.” I wince from her words.
So this wasn’t really to protect me. This act of kindness was to protect the people that she had grown to love. The clan she now was a part of.
“I will help you.”
“How?” I demand.
“I will teach you the ways. I will make you learn about the tribe- the actions. You will not be drowning anymore. You will be knowledgeable about the goddess that you are representing.”
I consider it, but really there is nothing to think about.
“Yes,” I breath, “yes please.”
She smiles and slowly sits me down.
I chew on the dried meat, taking in her words as she begins with the start of their conquest.
“Why is a nomadic tribe so large?”
“Our leader is very powerful. He is ambitious and seeks only glory for Mikabellum. Him finding you only confirms to the others that what he is pursuing is the right course of action.”
“What is the course of action?”
I choke on the food I had been swallowing, but she is serious.
She does not break eye contact with me. Instead, she only moves on.
“My husband is the second in command to Roark. He is called Tuva.”
I nod, “what is your name?”
“Soleia. Know this Mikabellum- names are powerful within the Onism tribe.”
I don’t say anything, too caught up in the fact that she had addressed me by the title of the goddess I was impersonating.
“Roark took over the title of leader after killing his brother-,”
“He what?” my voice comes out higher than it should have.
Soleia is patient as she soothingly says, “he was a wicked male Mikabellum. And Roark wanted power.”
“So he killed his brother?!”
Soleia looks as if this is a minor detail, “to gain power yes. Once he had possession of it he started to assemble men. Then he took each tribe.” I had heard this far into the story. The tales of the power that was growing and how each army and tribe of warriors seemed to fall with ease at the feet of the Onism tribe.
“World domination though…”
Soleia narrows her eyes at me, “you would not doubt if you had seen the way he commands. Men, women- they follow him when they take a sip of his power. They are intoxicated by the confidence that he carries. The power of his leadership. They want to follow him because he brings nothing but glory and fulfilled promises.”
“Where do I come into all of this?”
“Mikabellum is the goddess of love and war.”
Strange. Those two words were strange to be together. I don’t voice this out loud though as Soleia continues, “You were born from the tears of women who cried over the deaths of their lovers when they passed within battle. You blessed them, saying no longer would they cry. You would watch over their males and make sure their lives were safeguarded in war.”My heart is slowly sinking as the enormity of my presence slowly sinks in.
“So I...So now you cannot lo-,”
“Now we cannot lose because we have the goddess of war- the goddess of victory upon our side.”
“But what...what if…”I can’t say it out loud.
Soleia only takes my hand and squeezes it. “Roark has never lost a battle.”
That sentence though did nothing to comfort me.
“And the males...why are they dressed…”
“Ah,” my question prompts a smile from Soleia, “I was curious of the same thing also when I first joined. The male’s cover themselves because they are warriors. Underneath, their skin is inked with their story- you can tell everything from a male of Onism’s skin. How many he has killed, what he loves in life, what his weakness is, and the most treasured possession he owns. They hide away their skin so that their enemies cannot see it. Only the male and the male’s wife are allowed to mark the skin and view it. No one else.”
“Why would you mark your skin in the first place?” Soleia takes the question seriously, her face diving into one of deep concentration, “It is the highest form of intimacy if an Onism male reveals his skin to you.”
I suddenly wonder what Roark would have done if I had accepted his offer last night. Would I have been graced with the sight of his skin? Would I have been able to see the face that was hidden behind the clothing that obscured it?
“And the females?”
“Where the males hide away their flesh from the eyes of their enemies, females of the Onism clan proudly display what they have. Because their male cannot, they choose to show that they are beautiful enough for the both of them.”
I want to ask what a couple is to do if the female happens to not be in possession of beauty, but luckily have the foresight to hold my tongue.
“I brought these,” Soleia gets up and brings back the basket she had first carried in that contained the morning meal. Now she pulls from it clothing that is similar to what she is wearing. The only difference is the color- where hers is a mixture of brown and animal hide, the fabric she holds is a crimson blood red.
“You need to look the part.”
I don’t argue. Slowly I strip away my former life, taking off my harsh clothing of the mountains and trading them for these revealing items.
“I feel exposed.”
Soliea shakes her head, “a goddess should not feel modest or fearful of what others think.” She pauses on my face, “your eyes match the color.”
Her mouth twists, but she says nothing of my denial. Instead, she stands and pushes me to the side, turning and inspecting me from all angles.
“You are very beautiful.”
I scoff. No one had ever said such a thing to me. Kaleen was beautiful. Not me.
Before Soleia can say another word though, the flap to the tent opens. Both of us step back at the overwhelming presence that has suddenly entered upon the arrival of Roark.
He stops short, his black eyes taking me in.
“Ah Mikabellum...you are a savage beauty.”
For some reason, his compliment brings color to my cheeks. Unlike Soleia, I feel a different response when the words are whispered in awe out of his hidden lips.
Another male enters. He bows low to me. Soleia moves closer.
“This is my male Mikabellum- Tuva.”
Tuva raises his head, greeting me with the sight of light brown eyes. I don’t know how Soleia was able to distinguish that he was hers with everything that was covered, but nonetheless, I see the males eyes crinkle in amusement when he glances her way.
“Mikabellum, it is an honor.” Soleia moves closer to me. I feel a light pressure on my arm. It doesn’t prompt me to speak though. If Soleia wanted me to say words to this male, then she should have done a better job in teaching me what to say.
Instead, I remain silent. The silence continues until it’s broken by Roark’s barked laughter.
“Mikabellum does not like to speak in this form it seems.”
Proving his point further I remain silent.
He holds his arm out to me, an offering for me to take.
I reach out and let him lead me into the open.
It’s a curious thing.
Every time someone sees me, they stop whatever activity they are in the midst of and bow. Like Tuva. Some say words, others fall to their knees. Males, females- the whole of them honor and whisper their praise.
“Tell me something Mikabellum.”
I start at the sudden launch of conversation, but Roark continues, “why would you hide away within such a small hidden place?”
He waits for my answer, all the while steering me down various paths along the campgrounds. I think part of it is he just wants the people to see me. Another reason may be that he wanted this- to talk.
“Will you not tell me?”
I chew on the inside of my lip. Soleia did a horrible job teaching me. I would just have to stumble in the dark and hope I did not run into anything.
“These people-,” I point to the various tribe members, watching as Roark’s eyes flicker to them and back on me, “they covet me, yes?”
He said the word with complete absolution.
“They covet what they know is special. But those people,” I’m about to point to the mountains when I realize they are nowhere in sight. Strange. I have never been so far away from my home before, “they did not know what they had, therefore they could not misuse the blessing that they held. I am a goddess of war, but I am also one of love.”
He takes in my words. Blood fills my mouth from where I have chewed the cheek open. I only gnaw more, increasing the damage.
“You say you were there for love?”
My words had become twisted somehow, “No, I was there because there was no love or war. Only silence. I was waiting for you.”His eyes light up at my last sentence.
I stay silent. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.
“Mikabellum, were you waiting for me?”
“I was waiting for the one who would venture into the folds of the mountains and look within a village such as that. It could have been anyone.” My attempt to demotivate him failed miserably. He still seemed caught up in the words I had mistakenly said.
“You were waiting for me. My Mikabellum, did I make you wait long?”
“You could have waited a little longer.”
He throws his head back and laughs.
The sound makes the warriors and those around us pause. Their wide eyes glance at me in astonishment before turning back to fall upon their leader.
“How savage my lioness is.”
“Don’t think my presence here means that I am yours,” I remind him, an edge of hysteria rising within me.
“If I asked you to be mine would you?”
He laughs again, the sound low and vibrating into me, “I will convince you otherwise. What do you need for an offering? I can give you the heads of thousands, make a river of blood pour for you- I have gold of many tribes and currency of different countries falling into my pockets but what does a goddess want?”
To go home.
“Tell me Mikabellum and it is yours.”
The earnestness of his voice, the eager edge to please me. All wrapped within my mind. I couldn’t think of anything besides my Papa’s face, but that was not something I could request. Papa belonged in the safety of the village- not in the sight of this wild male.
“I want a flower.”He stops short, his eyes widening in astonishment.
“I want a flower.”
He is still, staring down at me.
The request was silly. It was very silly. But in this land of harshness and surrounded by conquest and males trained in killing. Gripping the arms of a leader who wanted to bring the world to its knees- I wanted something beautiful to hold.
I would watch the flower fade.
I could see it now in my mind.
The flower would wilt.
And maybe, if I had survived that long, I would ask for another. That would be my goal. Survive long enough to request another.
“I will give you hundre-,”
I almost want to laugh at the bewilderment that floods into his voice. But I hold back my mirth and nod, “I just want one.”
He says nothing. Until finally he nods and moves forward, leading me back to the center of the camp.
“Then you shall have just one flower.”