Chapter 1: Running Rivers
3 years ago
Maliha sat on a rock by the riverbank watching the water slosh by, the water churning and rocking as time ticked by in a swaying stroll. She had been by the riverbank for a while.
Waiting and waiting
Time was grinding by, the sun turning a deep orange as it began to fall across the sky. Small twinkling stars glistening on the backdrop of the darkening sky.
The air was getting chilly, and icy frost clinging to her limbs as she watched the water roll. Trickling and trickling in a slow rhythm down the mountain. The light ripples of the moving river were daunting, the dark pools looked bottomless. Like a whirlpool that would suck you in with no escape. The cool black depths of the water began to settle over Maliha’s countenance. Turning her optimistic thoughts to ones of abandonment and rejection.
He was late, and Petr was never late.
She tried to maintain positive, tried to believe that he would not do this to her but the longer he took to come the more she began to doubt their relationship. Insecurities niggled in her mind until she was gripping her hands and plucking at her dress.
Whispers in her ear as she heard the murmurs behind hands, relived the cold stares and snarls she received. Her mind became a darker place the longer he took to come, the cold was sleeping in l, drip dripping like the water sloshing down the riverbank.
The longer he took the more alluring the water became, her foot striking out to kick at the flowing liquid. The ripples hypnotising her and setting her into a trance.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting but I was caught up” his voice a cold shard of ice riding the wind.
Petr’s greeting was abrupt and emotionless, so unlike him. Petr was kind and selfless, always generous and never angry. This distant person couldn’t be her Petr, not the boy she knew. Not the boy who had complimented her darker skin when ally he children had skirted away from her. Not the same boy who had cried with her when she had revived her first ever lashing and it the same boy who had promised her an eternity.
If her Petr had been late he would have never offered her some half-hearted apology and explanation. Her Petr would have seeped her into his arms and clung to her until the ice around her began to thaw and she was nothing but lava in his hands. Her Petr would have peppered kisses along her cheek and nuzzled her neck until she forgave him.
He wouldn’t stand feet away from her as if there was a wall between them, he would not be so stoic. So emotionless but still Maliha wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Perhaps he was stressed.
“It’s okay Petr, I know how busy you get now that you’re a welder” her voice was soft and forgiving as much as she wanted to be as distant as he had been, she couldn’t be. She had prepared herself for this inevitable moment. Yet she still found herself reluctant to believe. Her body still yearned to reach out to his, so it couldn’t be true. Maybe his job as the new welder of metal was the reason he was late. Maliha was not holding out hope that it was the reason. No. Nia had sunk her claws into him.
“Yes, things have become quite busy for me” his eyes glinted with joy and Maliha couldn’t help but gasp for breath. This was the Petr she knew, amused and proud of the littlest things in life. The warmth radiating off of him tempted her to rock forwards, move away from her seat by the ledge and step into him. They stood face to face, breaths mingling they were almost touching but still worlds divide between them.
“Maliha” her name whispered like a weak man’s prayer for health, as if she were his reason to go on. His clear green eyes shuttered closed as his thumb stroked along her wide lips and down to her chin. His fingers dipping between the lapel of her fur skin and delving into her top. His scared fingers stroked along her necklace, running over it in a soothing motion and then gliding back up to her face. Tracing the countries of her soft skin.
It was as if he was imprinting the image of her into his brain, fingers gentling over her damp cheeks.
“Maliha,” he sighed, his cold fingers still touching her skin.
“I know” she whispered, not wanting to hear the words even though she knew what he wasn’t saying. In her heart she knew how this night would end.
“I can’t meet you anymore” his hand snatching away from her face and leaving bereft and alone. His body twisting away from hers as his voice quivered with his decision. His back demonstrating the future she would soon be facing, one without his love and acceptance. She knew what he would say but still it hurt to have him throw her to the side. For years he had been her only constant.
Growing up as an Ormas child was always hard, she had no mother, nor father. No origin. She was born a blank canvas in which her tribe, the Melikit people had moulded her into as much of their own as they could. She didn’t belong though and never would. That was always okay with Maliha as long as she had Petr, even now when she had been the last to know of this news she didn’t care that she had been isolated from the tribe. She only cared for him.
It was a shame he did not feel the same.
“Nia had given me permission to see you today but as she is now my Solah, she has forbidden us seeing each other after this point. I know you hoped it would be you and I had hoped that- but she is the Razi’s daughter and the match could be no better.”
He gripped at his short blond hair. His eyes searching in earnest for her understanding and acceptance. It was as if his words were tearing him apart, as if he were hurting just as much as she were, but he wasn’t because he would only be gaining while Maliha would be losing. Always loosing.
She could never be happy for him, not truly. Not when he had whispered sweet nothings in her ears for the past year of her life. The seeds of his promises had blossomed into grown and hopeful flowers within her heart. The only way to remove it was to rip out the stem and crumple the petals. Decimating the beauty, it once represented.
The beauty of her innocence.
“Was I not a good match for you Petr. Was my heart not pure enough. My love not strong enough, or- or my skin not light enough,” She stuttered and quivered.
Her hands gripping the rock beneath her as she staggered back to the water’s edge, the sharp edges of the stone cutting her fingers. Her skin wet with her thick blood, just like her shattered heart. Tears ran unadulterated down her face, as her young heart was torn apart by the coming storm.
“She is the Razi’s daughter,” he croaked out, striking at her heart where it hurt the most.
He knew where to hurt her, knew that she had wanted to belong all her life but had never, could never because her dark skin and dark hair had made her stand out. Nia was the epitome of everything Maliha had craved to be.
The thought of Nia’s beautiful pale skin and golden blonde hair crippled Maliha. Nia was the perfect female, she had all the qualities that the Melikit people prized themselves upon. Her silky hair flowed down her back and her blue eyes were the colour of the sky when the gods were pleased with them. Her skin was soft and dewy, and as pale as the snows that grazed their land. Her body was lithe but petite, her height no taller than 5 ft. Unlike Maliha who was one of the tallest in the village, her curvy body reaching towards the heavens at 5ft 6.
Nia’s appearance was not the only grace of hers, she was an excellent weaver, and often crafted snow boots. She could cook fish well without burning it and had a high tolerance for bear meat. She was soft and understanding around all adults, and no scandal had ever been attached to her name. As the Razi’s eldest daughter she was the most prime female amongst the Melikit people.
Her qualities were what made her the best Melikit woman and yet she was not good enough for Petr. Not in Maliha’s esteem.
“So am I Petr, Razi Godji raised me too, he is my father. I am a tribe leader’s daughter too.”
Though Maliha was an Ormas, an adopted child of the village, the Razi had taken it upon himself to raise her as one of his daughters. Though her appearance did not suggest kinship, she was one. Marriage to her may not be as beneficial as marrying Nia or even one of his younger daughters like Lana. If Petr did marry Maliha he would gain fake respect and quiet disdain. He would not get the awe and open support by the tribe, but he would have her love. Surely that amounted to more than an insincere courtship or marriage.
Maliha wished she was the type of female who would beg and plead for him to stay. The type who had no fear in the face of love, but she was not that woman. She was the type who had too much self-doubt to ever feel worthy. She had never felt comfortable being herself, never felt worthy of the tribes’ acceptance.
She would let Petr go because no man deserved to be saddled to her, not when he deserved better. If Nia was undeserving of Petr, then Maliha stood no chance. Yet she had always believed in her heart that no one fit him better than she did. No one could see into Petr’s soul the way she could. Soul-ties were insignificant when power and lust came into the mix. And Petr definitely lusted after Nia, every man did. She had never thought he could be swayed by such outward things. People were full of surprises and Maliha had attached too much hope to Petr’s words.
“U- u-- uh, I-I- Maliha, I love you, but love is not enough in this world we live in.”
His voice wavered as he tried to ease her pain, though the harsh reality of his words could never be softened. No matter how he told her, Maliha would be heartbroken and Petr would be the only person to blame. Though Nia had been the first to show interest, Petr did not have to say yes. He could have stayed true to Maliha and their love, but then he would remain a welder for his life. The job was higher than most but still not respected enough. If he married Nia he would not have to work over the hot fires and coal, wielding metals together to make tools.
His love was a sacrifice he was willing to pay.
“And Godji is okay with this paring, even though he knows my... Feelings” The last word left her mouth in a whisper, as if she was scared to admit that’s he felt so deeply for them.
Petr had no need to tell her the answer for she already knew in her heart that her adoptive father would do anything for his favourite daughter. Maliha was just a thorn in his side. By allowing this he could finally remove her from his family. No man would want her now and no person would take her seriously. They all new of her attachment to Petr, some even assumed they were intimate.
Maliha had wanted to wait until she turned sixteen to gift him with her virtue, at that age she would have had her adult celebration, marking her as a woman. Then her and Petr could have been married. Maliha almost wished she was older but then she would have been stuck as the second wife of Petr, for he surely would have married Nia anyway.
“It doesn’t matter Petr” she sighed as she faced away from him, her shoulders hunching over so she hid her face from him. So, he could not see the tears that tumbled across her face.
“I wish you and your Solah all the best ” she murmured.
Her eyes watched the flowing water. As it trailed out of the valley and out of her sight. The water moved away from her home, down the mountain and away from the cold. The cold air and the cold people. Maliha had the urge to follow the streaming water, to see where it ended. She had no reason to stay here anymore.
Petr had betrayed her and her family, well they weren’t even her family. If she ever thought they were, their approval of Nia and Petr’s betrothal was all the demonstration she needed to prove otherwise.
Petr did not need to tell her that love was not enough because if it were her love for Petr would stop him from leading astray. If it was enough, her mother’s love would have kept her alive if only to see Maliha reach the age of remembrance. Love was not enough, and she had no desire to learn the lesson ever again.
Stepping away from the water Maliha faced Petr, the face before her was not one she recognised. Though his eyes were a deep green and his hair was still the colour of corn when harvest was well. The strands curling at the end around his face. His lips were still a bright pink and his cheeks were as rosy as ever. His shoulders were still broad, and his body was still 5ft7.
He was not the same. His eyes were not as bright as they used to be, they were not as loving. His skin that once glowed with radiance was dull and pasty. He was cold like the mountain they lived on, unmoving and stoic as he watched her crumble inside. There was a sad flicker in his eyes, but she drowned it out, pushed it aside because his sadness was nothing compared to the gut wrenching pain.
Betrayal was always a hard thing to swallow and it always hurt most when it was from someone you allowed to get you so deep.
Petr had been so deep it was as if he were a part of her soul, a piece that had always been there and always belonged but that had only allowed him to hurt her.
They expected her to humbly if her head and agree to this, to smile when they exchanged pelts. To clap and be merrily while his bore his children and to stay by and be loyal to this tribe but she wouldn’t. She did not need him, or this damned tribe.
She would find her own way.
She would follow the stream until it travelled into the desert and dried up, and then she would pave her own path. She was tired of living in the shadow of these people who had raised but were not her own.
She would find her people and find her origin and when she did she would come back, just to show them what they had lost out on.
She wouldn’t stay, not when the water called for her.
Ormas - Adopted child of a tribe
Razi - Tribe leader
Solah - Partner/wife or husband