Noises of activities flow inside the tent. It’s stifling- the heat trapping inside and containing. I want to open the flaps and allow access for the breeze, but my movements are rigid in place.
After waiting, I realize that there is little chance of Soleia coming back.
The flutter of activity and shouted jobs being done tells me that work is ever constant within the camp. I can only imagine the volume of needs that have to be met after experiencing just a fraction of the size that the army holds.
What would a goddess do?
Certainly not hide herself away from sight…
If I was going to stay alive, then I needed to make them believe without a doubt that I was their Mikabellum.
What would a goddess do?...
Stealing my breath, I push back the flap and step outside. I jump back at the sight of the warrior that had been standing at the entrance. Of course they wouldn’t leave me unattended.
He immediately bows his head, “Mikabellum.”
He remains in his lowered position. I try to think of something to say, but I’m too afraid that the wrong words will come out. Instead, I step away, leaving him there.
I hear him follow behind me.
“Is there something I can help you with Mikabellum?”
I turn back to him. His gaze lowers to the ground, not meeting my eye.
“Take me to the sick.”
There is a pause before the warrior cautiously speaks, “You want to know where the sick are…”
“Take me to them.”
“Chief will be unhappy with that request.”
I don’t say anything, weary suddenly of what the warrior will do. But he surprises me by motioning down a path and leading me away.
He stops in front of a tent. I hear moans from the outside. A scream breaks through but is swallowed by the sound of activity that is transpiring outside. No one stops to take notice of it. What they do stop for is the sight of me standing in front of the structure.
“Mikabellum, they will infect you.”
Good, I thought, maybe then I would have an excuse to leave this place without feeling a knife sink into my heart.
I don’t say anything to his words and instead open the entrance. The sight shocks me.
Curtains separate each one from view. No healers attended to them. No sounds of soothing or noise of medicine being made, work being done- nothing.
It hits me then the cruel truth.
This was not a sick house.
This was a house of death.
I wish I had Soleia there next to me. She would be able to whisper in my ear why nothing could be done. Maybe there was no cure for whatever was plaguing these people. Maybe they were to far gone or the great leader did not have the foresight to find medical minds- only those who possessed a blood thirst for war like him.
I stand in front of the entrance to one of the warriors small enclosement- curtains blocking him from view to the others. His head rises and I watch as his eyes widen from the sight of me.
“So it’s true….Mikabellum…” His words come out with a painful effort. I move closer to him, noting that the warrior that attended to me did not venture in.
“I am- no- I am ashamed to be seen-,” he coughs, a shaky rattling cough that makes me unconsciously move closer.
“Do not be ashamed.”
My words do little to ease him. Were these warriors so prideful that they would die alone, away from the sight of others?
“What ails you?”
“Nothing Mikabellum. Nothing.” He coughs again, disproving his words.
I watch him. My eyes catch sight of a stain that spreads on the side of his clothing. I thought it had been dirt, but the dark dried brown is something that I recognize now.
“You’ve been cut.”
He shies away from my hand, the movement making me wince with him as he takes in a gasped breath of pain.
Another realization hits me.
Soliea had told me this. She had told me the truth behind why they lied here unattended.
Only the male and the male’s wife are allowed to mark the skin and view it. No one else.
“You have no one to attend to you.”
My words are not said as a question, but the male nods anyway.
I move towards the entrance and without thinking lower the curtains, cutting him from view of everyone else.
This was the most foolish thing I had ever heard of. Slowly I take my hair, braiding the strands back and weaving them from my face while using a strip from a rag to tie it together. Turning back to face him, his eyes are filled with anxious curiosity.
“Your name warrior,” I whisper the words to him, trying to conceal my voice for only him to hear.
I kneel beside him, watching the sweat bead upon his brow. Only the lower portion of it and his eyes were visible to me, but even that much of skin revealed the amount of pain he was in.
“Khalid, let me heal you.”
“No, no-,” his movements become frantic. I realize my mistake. This was their custom. Their way of living. They did not think it strange to come here and pass their life away. What was strange was their goddess walking in and asking for those customs to be tossed aside. I quickly think through what I could say to persuade him otherwise.
“I am...I am wife to all.”
He stills at my words.
“I am the goddess of War Khalid. But also love. I am the goddess of Love and I love my people. All my people. And you- you are my male. I care for each of you. There is no violation to me seeing your flesh. None at all. You are mine. Did you forget that?”
I reach forward, caressing his covered cheek with my hand.
I had little training in the art of healing. Papa had been the real medicine man. He had taught me a few details of the plants- but I only knew of herbs that grew upon the mountains. I doubted any would be stored here.
“No Mikabellum. I’m sorry you have to see me so...so weak,” his voice chokes at the end.
I stare at him. He trembles. My sense comes back to me, and I notice just how close I had come to him. I was invading his space- my earnestness in saving him making me forget myself.
To often I had watched this same reaction from Papa when others refused to take a medicine that could save them. Now I knew how he felt.
“Are you afraid of death?”
“I know you will watch over my soul, Mikabellum.”
“Foolish male,” I hiss the words at him, so caught up now in the role I was playing, “what do you think I am doing now?”
His body freezes as his eyes close in thought. Finally, he opens them.
“If anyone is to see my flesh- I will gladly allow that one person to be you, Mikabellum.”
Guilt rides through me that I have deceived this male so much to twist his culture and use it against him. But the stain upon his clothing only grows. New red was leaking through.
Slowly, with trembling hands, I pull back what had been hidden from sight.
I manage to hold back my gasp as flesh is revealed. Soleia should have explained better to me the inking of the flesh.
It was beautiful.
Patches of skin were left bare, while other sections held a vivid story.
I don’t comment on it and instead pull further back to show the gash that has been draining upon the male’s side.
The time passes by with me doing what I can for him.
He does not say anything. His body remained tense the whole time, eyes wide in both wonder and horror.
I cleaned it as best I could. But now the true horror was about to come. I had no way of closing the gash. I could tell it had been set long enough to fester.
“I need to burn it.”
A strangled cry leaves him at my words.
I want to tell him to be brave, but he already is doing just that by allowing me access to view his skin. I want to get this over with as soon as possible. I could already tell the negative effects that were happening to his body just with the exposure to his chest. I had tried covering him back up, letting just the wound be revealed, but even that bare strip of flesh had his chest heaving in anxiety.
I don’t want to step outside, fear leaking into me also with the presence of the other males.
What have I done? I should have left him here to die so I could save my cover. But even as the thought enters my mind I know I would have never been able to do so.
Instead I start a fire right there.
I cover Khalid back up- a precaution in case the male warrior came in alarm to the smoke. He doesn’t though.
I reach for Khalid’s knife- heating the metal tip. Quickly I roll a rag up, and hand it to him.
“Place it in your mouth.”
I look away, knowing that if he could barely stand exposing his chest, then there would be no way he would reveal his face to me. True to my thoughts, when I turn back around he is fully clothed. The only indication that he has done what I asked is a slight bulge upon the mask of his face where his lips should be.
His nods once, a quick jerk of his head before I trace the wound upon his side. He says nothing. He does not move or thrash. The pain did not even seem present with the lack of reaction on his side.
And then it’s over.
I pull back the blade, taking in the closed wound. I could do nothing if damage had been done to the inside of his body, but the bleeding had stopped- that was what mattered to me.
Or maybe I condemned him to a worse fate. Maybe he would still be gone by the morning.
I cover him back up and secure the blade back to his side.
I pour dirt over the fire, covering it and trying to conceal any smoke. Standing, Khalid’s hand catches my wrist. I look down to see tears in his eyes.
“Thank you Mikabellum. Thank you.”
I only nod. I don’t know what else to say. Maybe goodbye since I had a feeling I would be gone by the morning once the great leader found out about my actions.
Because I didn’t stop at Khalid.
Like with him, I entered each section of the tent, going to the males and whispering my sweet words of false promises to them. I felt like Yulie. She had been a woman who stayed within our village for only a handful of months. Her presence had greatly disrupted our peaceful way of living.
She floated within our space, coaxing words to our males and telling them that it was not a sin to let her see their flesh. Not until those same males come home and faced the wrath of their females.
And now I felt like her.
Something I never thought I would sink to, but here I was. Papa had done wrong in raising me. His life twisted me to become too compassionate for my own good. Looking at the trait, I saw that it was not something to admire.
The greedy and selfish lived longer for a reason.
Night soon has fallen.
I had reached many males, tending to many. I don’t think the warrior who was attending to me knew of what I had done during the day.
He certainly was thrown off when I emerged from the last tent with tears coursing down my face.
“Mikabellum!? Did he hurt you?” He is drawing his blade in action but I shake my head to stop him.
“He has passed.”
I know a goddess of war should not weep over the loss of a life. War was death’s greatest friend. But my sleepless night, along with the string of anxiety I had pulled myself through pushed me finally to the breaking point.
I wordlessly leave.
I cover my face as we walk to the center of the camp. I try to hide that I am crying. But I know either way I am doomed.
What fool am I?
Entering the great leader’s tent, my assumptions only become obvious when Soleia is there waiting for me.
“Mikabellum,” anger hisses through her words as she grabs my wrists, “you went to the fallen.”
So everyone around the camp knew that they were gone.
“Yes,” my word is hiccuped out between my sobs.
“You foolish, foolish thing- the whole camp knows! Mikabellum is not a goddess of compassion! She is a savage- a warrior of the fiercest kind. She does not weep over males who were too weak to protect themselves.”
Khalid’s words come back to me. His fear and emotions of shame at having me witness his weakness.
All the men had acted that way.
I didn’t understand it until now.
“But I am a goddess of love-,”
“Not that kind of love!” Soleia moans, “It is a love of passion! A love of the body- not the soul!”
My heart falls from my chest as I realize my mistake. I had interpreted it wrong.
“That is not love.”
“To the Onism, it is.”
“Is that the kind of love you and Tuva have then?”
I don’t know why I bring up her male’s name, but her face only grows harder.
“I am like you in many ways Mikabellum. I to was taken from my home and brought here. But unlike you I did not act out and commit foolish, thoughtless missions. I fought with my teeth and nails to fit into their world. If you want to survive, then you need to realize this.”
More tears are coming down now that I know the full extent of my actions.
Soleia’s expression changes from one of anger into sadness.
Before she can say another word though, the tent opens to reveal the great leader himself.
He steps further inside. He does not even pause at the sight of my tears. Instead, he looks at Soleia, “out.”
She bows to him and moves to the entrance. But before she can leave I catch sight of the pure fear that is filtered on her face.
Fear for me.
I look away from it and lower my head to stare at the ground.
He laughs, “my savage lioness is still inside.”
“I am not yours.”
He moves closer until his body presses against mine. I resist the urge to look up into those starless night eyes.
“But you seem to be everyone’s.”
A chill runs down me.
It’s that sentence that makes me glance at him, to see what expression is being held in his eyes.
They are narrowed in deadly thought.
“Are you wife to all? Is everyone yours?”
He raises his hand to cup my face. I am frozen, captured to stand in place by the piercing gaze. His eyes have nailed me down, making resistance futile.
A low laugh is heard as he moves down to be eye level with me.
“Am I yours then Catina?”
I shiver at the use of my real name. It only caused more alarm in me. Why was he using that name? Had he seen through my act?
“Yes,” I whisper.
His eyes widen in delight.
“I am yours?”
“Do you favor some over others?”
He pauses, until he shakes his head, “I have not forgotten your request Mikabellum.”
I sigh in relief at the use of the other name. He mistakes the relief, a low laughter rising within him.
“I wonder why you wish so badly for a single flower.”
I move away, desperate to not have his gloved hand touching me anymore. It unsettled me how much warmth could be felt between the thin layers of clothing.
“Why did you go to the fallen?”
“Their pain is mine.”
That seemed like a goddess thing to say.
“Is that why you weep then?” He dries my tears with his clothed hand, wiping away the moisture from my face.
“And the other reason?”
How many questions was this male going to ask?
I exhale deeply, “Because I could not save him.”
“You did save him though- your face was the last thing he saw before passing.”
A bitter smile twists my face.
“I am not the goddess of healing. Battles and war bring much pain.”
“You regret your position?” He is openly curious now. Maybe he just wanted to learn more about what being a goddess was like. Maybe it was just in his nature to learn everything. To know everything and be aware of all that was in his surroundings.
He surprises me by sitting down, patting the spot next to him.
“Please Mikabellum. Teach me.”
Teach him? Teach him what? Warfare? The art of killing? Judging by the number of his army and the way he already had taken over and conquered, he needed no lesson from me.
“What do you wish to know?”
I wish I could see his face. I wish I could watch the expression that painted his features when he had breathed out that single word. He did not sound like a man. He sounded like an eager boy, one full of innocence and life, who saw the extraordinary act in every small thing.
One who viewed the world with so many endless possibilities.
It was not full of ends.
It was full of unopened beginnings.
I cautiously sit next to him, drawn into the spell he had cast.
“You wanted to know if I regret my position?”
“War is not always evil. You fight for your cause- evil may be eradicated, justice may be served. But what of the wars with no purpose? Do you think any pleasure is found in them? Of males throwing their lives away while families accept their fate for them?”
He is listening with the utmost attention, never once interrupting.
“War is not soft. Therefore I am not soft. I am a bringer of death and ruin. I cause no peace. It is not war that brings peace, but the aftermath. War is just a step towards that goal. But the act itself…”
I struggle with the right words, thinking of what little Soleia had taught me and what I already knew of the Onism tribe, “I cried because life does not come from me. Only death.”
He remains silent as he thinks through my words. I sigh, feeling another weight press on me. Was it really worth living this lie? It felt like such a burden. I eyed the blade that rested on his hip.
It looked so tempting.
But his words interrupt my thoughts, “I see another side to you my lioness.”
I bring my knees to my chest, resting my chin to turn and look at him. Heat travels through me as he pauses to let his eyes gaze on me before he continues, “You say you are not soft but do you forget that you are the bringer of love?”
“Lust,” I scoff.
He laughs, “that is not love my lioness.”
I smile at the ground, “what do you know of love, oh great leader.”
He does not answer. I still, thinking I had pushed the game too far. But his soft words come floating back to me, “I am beginning to understand it more and more with each passing hour.”
I look away from him again, staring hard at the ground as I feel his shoulder press against mine.
“So I am the bringer of love,” I try to distract him by bringing the conversation back to where it originally had been.
“You are a strange Goddess, Catina.”
He had switched the name again.
He laughs, the sound traveling through to shake my body with his.
“You hold more compassion than I thought possible for a lover of war.”
“The two words do not go together. Separate them and they become different ways of describing me.”
Warmth from his breath as it filters through the thin cloth falls onto my neck, “Is that what you mean?”
I stand before he can get closer. His eyes cannot hide the disappointment in them.
I sigh and turn back to him.
“I am tired.”
He nods, “I will leave after one question.”
He stands to look down at me, his height giving him such an advantage.
“You say you are everyone’s?”
“Is that your one question?”
He laughs, “do not attack me yet my lioness.”
I press my lips together, crossing my arms to stare up at him. He raises his hand to cup my face again. This time though, his thumb comes out to stroke my bottom lip. He stares at me for a few long moments, before he whispers.
“What can I do to make you only mine?”
I take a step back and look away.
The only response I hear is his laughter as it fades away with his departure.