Going to the fallen now was a ritual of mine.
I only did so because it was an escape. Or at least, that’s what I told myself.
It was a way for me to not be inside that tent alone, yet also offered a reason to venture out and still be hidden away from the view of others.
“You should not waste your time here Mikabellum.”
Out of all the males, Khalid had become one of my favorite. He surprised me with how much he seemed to already know me. Either that or he was skilled in the art of reading body language and interpreting people.
“I am not wasting my time.”
Khalid was sitting up. His wound no longer festered and he told me he had been able to consume food and water.
He says nothing about my comment. Instead, he turns the conversation over to a new direction.
“Do you sleep at night?”
I sigh at his question.
No. I was too scared to close my eyes. Every noise I heard left me waking in a panic. I was a manic now. I could feel a dull pulse in the back of my head. I did not want to look into any reflective surface.
I knew this was not how a goddess should look, but my mind played tricks on me when I was alone.
Khalid immediately becomes apologetic, “forgive me Mikabellum, I did not mean to say that you look unwell. It is only my concern for you.”
I lean back and sigh, “the truth Khalid?”
“I do not like to sleep.”I look at him but he is silent, waiting for more information.
“I see...I hear...well I don’t like to sleep.”
“Do you hear the sounds of the dying? The cries of the warriors? Do you see them falling?”
I don’t say anything. No, I didn’t.
I saw my Papa’s tear-stained face. I saw visions of men, masked and armed cutting down the people of my village. I saw the great leader astride his horse- like the first time I had ever seen him. Only instead of taking me with him, he cut me down in my place.
“I do see death.”
It was not entirely a lie.
Khalid shakes his head, “How you suffer Mikabellum.”
“It is not that great a pain….” I shrug away his worried gaze. I could see the connection now. The goddess of war having visions of death. That would make sense.
“Would you sleep if I promised to watch over you?”
Khalid’s eyes fall in sadness. I don’t have the heart to tell him that his presence would only make me more anxious. I could not trust anyone around me.
Who was to say he would not cut me down the moment my eyes had closed?
My own paranoid thoughts left me breathless. How had I become like this? I could trust no one. Even my body flinched from Soleia. I didn’t want to trust her, no matter how many times she insisted that she wanted to help.
“It is my burden to carry,” I said, hoping Khalid would let the matter past.
He nodded, a distracted motion that told me he would, in no way, let the matter go.
The next day my routine is broken.
The great leader comes into the tent, his eyes showing astonishment that I am awake before the rising of the sun.
It’s moments like these that made me glad I stayed up in a restless slumber.
“You did not sleep,” he moves to stand over me.
I look away from him, knowing the shadows under my eyes would give me away anyway.
I could feel the weight of my eyes pulling my face down. I wanted nothing more than to sleep but my mind would not settle enough for me to try.
“Come. We ride out at dawn.”
Soleia finds me soon after, her whispered explanation telling me what I need to know.
“The camp is being broken. We have stayed in this place for too long and are moving on.”
“Another tribe to conquer?” I ask bitterly.
She pulls back to stare at me, “Mikabellum...when was the last time you slept?”
The question came with good reason. My judgment of when to hold my tongue and what to say was slowly slipping.
I don’t answer. Instead, I look out, taking in the horses that are being assembled. And then it hits me.
I frantically turn to Soleia, “Soleia!”
I grab her forearm dragging her wide-eyed to me, “I can’t ride!”
“Horses!” An edge of hysteria is reaching my voice as I point to the creatures, “I don’t know how to ride!”
Her eyes widen even more as they reflect my own horror.
But then they relax, “ask to ride with the great leader. He will be honored by your request.”
I shiver at the suggestion. The last time I had done such a thing, had been when he carried me away from my village.
I didn’t want to be alone with him. And I didn’t want to face his endless questions. I was so tired, on the tip of breaking. I couldn’t think straight. Even processing that simple suggestion from Soleia took all my mental capacity.
Answering his questions for hours upon hours while making up and lying about the answers had me dreading the thought.
Until I see a familiar face. “Khalid?”
He had been making his way to me already. He stops short at being addressed first.
Slowly he bows, “Mikabellum.”
“What are you doing up?”
I wish I could take back my words. These males did not want their weakness revealed.
He does not pause in anger or embarrassment though.
“I am well enough to ride.”
“I’m...I’m glad to hear that.”
Soleia’s head is turning back and forth between us, a look of confusion on her face as she tries to decipher how I know this male.
Another idea comes to me then.
“You are riding?”
“I will ride with you.”
Soleia gasps. Khalid’s eyes widen in astonishment before he shakes his head, “the chief…”
“I decide who I ride with unless you do not want me?”
He quickly shakes his head, lowering it at the same time, “I would never even think such a thing.”
He hesitates, shuffling on his feet in a confused motion before turning back around, “I will get my horse…”
As soon as he is gone Soleia is hissing in my ear.
“What are you doing?”
“I want silence.”
“You want a death wish, that is what you want!”
“I just said I want silence. So be quiet.”
Her mouth opens and closes in disbelief to my sudden show of confidence. It was the lack of sleep that made up the majority of it.
Khalid returns, leading a beautiful horse behind him.
I coo at the sight, walking up to stroke the animal’s nose. When I turn back around Soleia is gone.
“We will be leaving soon Mikabellum...let me assist you…”
I don’t argue as he lifts me to the horses’ seat. There is a pause in activity around us though when the action is done.
Khalid audibly swallows.
I smile at him, “are you afraid Khalid?”
“It is a warriors way to not admit into fear.”
I wish I could unhear those words.
He pulls up behind me, letting a slow exhaled breath leave him.
I fall back on his chest, feeling a heaviness pull me.
It was starting to crush into me how tired I was.
Even within the close proximity of Khalid, my body could no longer hold out.
“You did not sleep Mikabellum,” Khalid’s voice is almost a scold.
I smile and shake my head.
“Were your dreams to much?”
I sigh, “they are always too much Khalid.”
I force my eyes to stay awake, watching in astonishment at how quickly the encampment is packed. They have experience and skill on their side. Soon the hoard is moving.
“We follow the river south.”
I don’t say anything.
Khalid is tense behind me. I know he is waiting for it. And just as I assume, the revelation finally comes.
“Where is Mikabellum?!”
The leader’s voice echoes around. We are near the front, allowing for his question to be heard.
I wish we could have been more positioned in the back.
Others whisper, telling him my placement. And there he is, just as I saw him in my dreams- astride his great animal carrying a power that could crush the world.
I shiver against Khalid, feeling his arms tighten around me as he grips the horses' reins.
“Warrior,” Roark looks up and down Khalid, his eyes showing a satisfaction when he is done evaluating him. Compared to the other warriors, I know Khalid is not one of the greatest. He is just a common male in possession of no great skill.
“Give me Mikabellum.”
Those around us are leaning in yet averting their eyes.
“If she so chooses, I will.”Khalid’s eyes fall to me then.
“My lioness. Ride with me.”
“I am comfortable where I am at.”
Anger clouds his eyes. I see Soleia move closer as she rides with Tuva. She shakes her head, a warning that I do not heed.
“Let me rest. I will ride with you later if you still desire it.” Roark looks as if he is about to argue. He pulls sharply on his horses’ reign, a quick agitated motion that shows his barely contained irritation.
“I will let you rest.”He moves away to the front of the group. I sigh in relief, leaning back against Khalid.
He sighs with me and together we relax the further he moves away.
“I thought the chief was going to kill me.”Khalid’s voice is nothing but serious, however, I still laugh at his admission.
“There is no humor in my near death Mikabellum,” he scolds.
“No,” I can’t help more laughter spilling out, “I’m just so tired.”
I feel him sigh, “sleep if you can then. I will make sure you do not fall.”
I thought it would be hard to do such a thing, but within the next few seconds, I am closing my eyes to a darkness void of any nightmares.