There is a soreness in my body. The pain in my limbs is the cause for my eyes to open, casting off the cover of sleep.
I don’t rise- instead listening around to what sounds were next to me.
Nothing but the steady breathing of another.
Tensely I turn, trying not to wake whoever it was. Relief floods into my stomach when I see the dark braid of Soleia.
We sleep in the open, no tent covering us above. There are many other women surrounding us. The cool breeze rests on my face, encouraging me to untie my hair and release it to the wind. Pain now enters my scalp from having it in such a knot for so long.
I sit there in silence for a time, letting my fingers weave in and out of the strands.
My vision falls upon the locks, twisting them in my hands and letting them fall loosely around my shoulders. In the mountains, long hair was one of necessity. The invasion of coldness made many wish for whatever protection the body could provide. I learned this the hard way when I had been bold one summer and cut my hair the length of a shoulder- subjecting my neck to the biting winds of the north.
After that, I never cut it again.
The length reached almost that of my waist. Many of the village girls had hair just as long or even longer than mine.
I had loved the exotic color- until now.
Now looking at the gold, and the way it stood out- even in the night- I couldn’t help but feel a blossom of hate rise in me from the sight.
It’s not long that another pain is felt in my body. I need to relieve myself, but the women offer a protection that I do not want to leave.
I look at Soleia, wondering if she would be angry if I woke her.
I push aside the thought though. I would not go far, and I would not be long.
I try to be as quick as I can. The camp must be moving in the morning- little tents are set up, only the necessities in place. It was obvious to see this was not a spot that would be resided in for a few days. Just a quick rest before moving on.
As far as my eye can see, various fires and other sleeping forms are out. But also those who are up, alert and watching.
I move further away, towards the edge of the encampment.
Hope began to form in me that I would be able to make it back to the women safely without meeting anyone. I was on my way there before the reality set in.
I was lost.
I had ventured too far to the edge, not bothering to keep track of the winding paths and different routes that my feet carried me on.
Now I stood, gripped in an unknown placement of the encampment.
I should have woken Soleia.
I don’t know how long I tried to find my way back. My efforts are stopped though when a whispered voice calls out to me.
Turning, I find three men all gathered around a low fire.
They were either keeping watch or could not find sleep in the night.
Unconsciously my feet begin to move back, away from them.
“Is there something you need?”
The response is automatic. I did not want to embarrass myself by admitting their goddess had the power to bring divine glory, but not enough sense to find her way back to her mat.
The three of them continue to stare at me until one holds out a cup.
I hesitate before walking forward and accepting.
Slowly I sit down. They seem surprised by my actions of joining them. In all truth though, I didn’t want to risk the possibility of walking in the opposite direction of my destination.
I don’t drink their offering. My lips graze the surface, but my mind seizes against consuming it. Unknown. Foreign. Who knew what poison had been planted in here.
They may smile now, but anyone could fake such an action.
“Do you not sleep Mikabellum?”
I was starting to get tired of being asked this question.
“I have difficulty.”
I regret my words. A goddess should not have a hard time for anything.
They stare at me, waiting for my response.
I ignore it and instead go off topic.
“What are your names?”
The one closest to me seems surprised. He jerks back, his eyes unable to hide their astonishment. In the firelight, I could faintly tell that two possessed brown eyes, while another had dark grey. They almost looked black, but I knew the true color of those eyes belonged solely to the great leader.
The male who held a startled look, his brown eyes still wide in surprise, speaks, “Nash.”
The other brown eyed male responds, “Hirog.”
Finally the last male answers. He is slower than the other two in responding. His eyes flash against the light of the fire as he whispers, “Jesper.”
Hirog is the first to break the silence. Out of the three, he seems the most eager to talk.
“Why do you have difficulty sleeping Mikabellum?”
I frown, displeased that he had remembered his earlier question.
“I see death.”
Any rational person would shy away from such words. These males hold nothing but awed fascination at such an admittance.
Like Khalid, they seem both troubled and amazed.
“Our death?” Nash’s voice has an edge of anxiety in it, one that he tries and fails to cover.
“No. Just death.”
He sighs in relief that the faces I saw in my dreams were not his own.
“Why did you not ride with the Chief?”
I flinch from Hirog’s words. His blunt way of asking was leaving me breathless.
They were the wrong words to say.
Jesper sits up straighter, his eyes narrowing, “you do not approve of the Chief?”
All three of them look at each other in confusion, trying to piece together the small puzzle.
“The Chief let me rest.”
“From your visions?”
Silence fills the space once again before Nash speaks, “Your eyes are like fire Mikabellum.”
“Or blood,” Hirog counters.
“I would say a sunrise.”
Hirog and Nash both quietly cheer for Jesper’s visual link.
“A blood-red sunrise.”
“In the aftermaths of battle.”
Hirog shudders slightly, a chill overtaking him, “I love the sight of it.”
I feel a nauseous wave come over me at how bloodthirsty the three males had suddenly become just from the sight of my gaze.
“What would you say the hair is like?”
They have become caught up in the game of comparison.
I can’t help but sit quietly and smile as the three argue back and forth. The banter made it clear to see how close they were. Perhaps brothers in combat.
“No,” Hirog counters Nash, “I’ve seen gold before. It’s duller.”
Jesper laughs, “oh her eyes.”
“Much more than her eyes are gold,” Hirog wiggles his eyebrows then stiffens. All three of the males stiffen as their heads slowly turn back to me. They had become so caught up in the moment, my presence had floated into the back of their minds.
“Oh? Please tell me more about ’Galinda’s eyes.”
Nash barks out a laugh. I wish I could see these male’s face to know if they were embarrassed or not.
All I had to go by were the movement of their eyes and body.
The conversation somehow had steered away from my appearance into talk of other women. These males for some reason felt safe in confiding with me.
“You see Mikabellum, I have caught the eye of Patine many times, but she always looks away.”
Nash cocks his head to the side, “do you not know the way of courting?”
“I...I have forgotten…”
Admittance of the slip within my mind does not faze the males. They take the words in good humor, explaining for me.
“Male’s fall to your feet Mikabellum, maybe you never realized it.”
“True,” I try and agree with their words, curious now as to what they were talking about.
“If we are interested in a female, we look into their eyes. Become eye level or try to make them stare into our own. It is the only place for them to see,” Nash gestures to his covered body, “they say the eyes are the window to the soul.”
I turn over his words and freeze when I realize something. The great leader. How many times had he bent to be eye level with me? And how many times had I stared at the males in the eye, not even aware of my blunder?
If I ever found my way back to Soleia, I would wake her, whether she wanted it or not.
Most likely with a good kick.
“And if the female meets your eyes?”
“You have to make sure it is not a mistake,” Jesper chuckles his words under his breath. I wonder if he is speaking from experience.
“So none of you have females?”
A wishful gaze enters Nash’s eyes. Jesper seems unfazed from the face, while Hirog only shrugs. I focus back on Nash and how his gaze is down.
“You are a romantic I think, Nash.”
He blushes at the words, shaking his head in denial while his companions laugh.
“It is nothing to be ashamed of,” I snap, my words coming out in a quick scold.
Hirog and Jesper immediately stop.
I extend my hand, reaching for Nash. He doesn’t hesitate to take it.
“Blessings of love to you. The ones who seek love often are the ones who are most discouraged in its course. But they are the most rewarded in the end.”
“Love,” Jesper scoffs, “give me a sword over a female.”
“A sword will not keep you warm at night,” I remind him.
“The bodies of my enemies as their blood coats my skin certainly is all the warmth I need.”
Nash and Hirog’s eyes crinkle in amusement to Jesper’s words. They look at me.
I try not to openly frown. A goddess of war should not scold such a thing.
“Do you love to kill, Jesper?” I hope they do not hear the tremble in my voice.
Maybe, underneath his clothing, he wears a feral grin. Maybe he smiles baring his teeth to the world.
“No. I love to serve the Chief.”
“Do you love to kill Mikabellum?”
I look up to find all three of them waiting for my answer.
“No. I am not the goddess of death.”
“But one of War.”
“It is not my choice that I am so.”
They all gasp in surprise. I sigh, wondering why I kept saying the wrong things.
I shake my head, “But I am. So you ask do I like to kill. I say no. You ask, will I kill? I can say yes. The answer depends upon the question.”
Soleia finds me in the early morning, still talking to Nash, Jesper, and Hirog.
“Excuse me, Mikabellum,” she bows, stopping our laughed conversation about Nash’s story from when he had agitated Hirog’s horse on purpose.
We all turn at the sound of her voice.
“The Chief wishes your presence.”
I stand, brushing myself off from the dirt.
Hirog had indulged too much in his sweet wine, drinking large gulps as I looked away. My own glass still remained full from when they had first offered it to me.
I hope the sight would not offend them.
Through the hours I had talked with these three males, I somehow felt a connection to them.
The moment we are out of their hearing, Soleia is gripping my arm, “why do I always find you surrounded by other males?”
“It’s not something I chose…”
She shakes her head in disbelief, “and the Chief’s Head out of all the males.”
“The head- they are the part of the tribe that serves the purposes of the chief. They are the highest warriors.”
True to Soleia’s words, we only walk a short distance before she stops in front of a tent. It’s then that I register why the three males had been sitting outside in the firelight.
They had been guarding the great leader.
“Why didn’t they tell me…?”
Soleia stops to look at me, probably hearing the alarm that was rising in my voice.
“Anyone can tell just by looking at them. Their shoulders are adorned in the Chief’s symbol.”
I can’t say another word. Soleia is uncovering the tent, leading me in.
Roark, Tuva and other males whom I do not recognize all stand over a crude table with a map spread across it.
“Leave,” Roark’s barked order has Soleia quickly backing out of the space.
“Mikabellum, come and look.”
Curious, I walk closer, wondering what he wanted me to see.
I stand between him and Tuva, feeling small in the presence of these males.
They all bow their head’s in respect, each muttering their own welcome before focusing back on the map.
“We passed the Burnman Mountains.” His fingers trace over an area that represented the landscape of my past home. He leaves no room for a comment though as he moves one.
“The Red River runs sound, into the Pasce Sea.”
He stares intensely at the body of water. I look also.
Papa had tried to teach me the landscape of the earth, but I never paid close attention. My thought had always been that I would not need such knowledge because I would never leave the village.
I wait for him to finish his explanation, or reason for why I was here, but he does not.
Instead, he turns to me.
All the males turn to me.
“Where do we go Mikabellum?”
I quickly look away from his gaze, panic seeping into me.
Closing my eyes, I let my hand fall upon the map.
It lands in an area distal from the mountains.
There is a sudden intake as the males lean in closer to inspect my hand.
“The Wakin Tribe…”
“They also are acquiring great strength-”
“But Mikabellum has proclaimed!”
“The journey will at least be two weeks, they will know!”
The males continue to argue. I jump when Roark leans down to be eye level with me.
Now that I was aware of the meaning behind the action, I quickly looked down.
“Why this place Mikabellum?”
No one is listening to our conversation. They all are too absorbed in the debate of should they? Should they not?
“My reasons are my own.”
A humorless laugh leaves him.
“Countless lives lean upon me. I do not take that lightly.”
Guild spreads into me from his words. I had no idea if my actions were sending these males to their glory or death.
I look at the map more, eyeing the curve of the river and way it bent.
“Make a force go around.”
Silence halts their sudden argument.
“What?” One male that I do not know speaks out.
I try to stand tall.
My limbs are sore from the ride yesterday, and my mouth felt like dried wood. A ringing sensation was building within my head.
I wanted nothing more than to be alone.
But all their eyes were upon me, as I stood straighter and spoke, “the Wakin tribe does not seem to be surrounded by much, only the river to their back. Have a force split and go around. Signal a day and close them in.”
It was a strategy we used when trapping hares.
Two others stood at different exits for the animal. When it came time to leave, it would be trapped.
“Mmmhh… I see.” Roark’s eyes flash. The sudden maniac light that enters them leaves my flesh rising.
I wonder if he really does see. All his vision seemed to possess was that of bloodlust and crazed desires for domination.
“Mikabellum has spoken. We ride to Wakin.”
The males all nod and slowly, one by one exit. Tuva is the last to leave as he rolls up the map and delicately seals it.
He, like the others, quickly leaves.
Roark stares at me intensely, “Today you ride with me my Lioness.”
I feel the beats from my heart quicken at his words.
“Do you know what I think, Catina?”
He had too many names for me. Each one left me dizzy and trying to keep up with the reasoning for why he used each particular one.
I don’t answer him. He moves closer to me.
“I think, I make you nervous.”
I can’t help but laugh.
He did make me nervous. Especially with the sword that hung on his hip.
His eyes dance at the sound. He leans down, but I take a step back before he can become eye level with me.
“Do not flatter yourself.”
He shakes his head, “my savage Lioness is coming out now.”
“I’m not yours.”
“If you are satisfied with just one.”
“Oh….Mikabellum,” he pulls back, letting me catch my breath, “you will crave more than one.”
“One day is one too many in my mind.”
I’m unconsciously leaning closer to him. Despite him pulling back, he also is gravitating towards me, his voice growing lower. Our conversation had turned into one of teasing.
It reminded me of Kaleen.
How she spoke to the village boys.
“Really?” His eyes flicker down my face. I would swear by anything that was actually holy, that those black eyes rested upon my lips before flickering up to meet my gaze.
I try to look away. Nash’s words come back to me of how males let females know their interest.
They say the eyes are the window to the soul, Mikabellum.
If that was true, then I saw no soul within this male.
Only an endless black, a pitchless void and a falling, falling hole of nothing as I became lost in his web of darkness.
“Your eyes are like falling stars Mikabellum.”
Out of all the comparisons, his was the one that made me feel a connection.
“You’ve seen a falling star?”
He leans his head to the side, thinking back to the memory.
“Only once. I watched it descend and found it later. The star glowed with a power that matches your gaze.”
“What did you do with it?”
“I claimed it for my own.”
He pats the sword that rests on his hip.
My mouth opens in astonishment. His sword was forged from a fallen star? Is that what he was implying?
I stare at the sword, a sudden sadness coming over me.
Beautiful things were capable of creating chaos.
“Ride with me.”
I swallowed, trying to push as much air into my lungs as I could. I couldn’t be trusted alone with this male.
His voice was enough to make me lose my mind.
But I always said the wrong things.
“I will ride with you.”