A day later, Natir found herself at the village’s square, dressed in a leather cloak over a thick woolen dress, ready to depart with the rest of the group.
She had her back to the supply wagon, her face dark and solemn. She couldn’t even find it in herself to speak to anyone, and the most anybody had gotten from her, when instructing her to do something, was but a lifeless nod of her head.
Joyce had come to bid her master farewell. She hovered around Natir for a while until she summoned the guts to approach her.
“How’s Aina doing?” Joyce asked.
Natir looked away. “She’s fine.”
“Well, um, where is she now?”
“In good hands.”
Guilt and pity washed over Joyce’s face, and she could never hold eye contact with Natir. She rested her back to the wagon, next to Natir.
“I could have taken care of her for you, you know.”
“I understand. I was just saying, I’m all by myself now that my master is leaving and—”
“My heart is weeping for you.”
“Natir.” She waited for Natir to look at her. “Look, I understand things went badly between us, but I swear to you this has got nothing to do with it. I’m only offering this for Aina’s sake. You know that it’s better to have her looked after by a woman she knows rather than someone like Volk.”
“Volk?” Natir shook her head. “As if… Diva is looking after her. Volk is not someone I’d trust on the shadow of my daughter, and that’s more than I can say about you.”
Joyce dropped her face. “I was hoping you’d find it in your heart to understand why I did it, by now.”
Natir watched Joyce leave. She spat on the ground with disgust then turned her attention to Volk, who came with a sack of supplies to give to her.
“How is it going, Natir?”
“As it pleases you,” she intoned sarcastically. “You’re just about to get rid of me and all the headaches I’m causing you.”
“Look, I know how you feel.”
“Do you?” She pushed off the wagon and hissed, “Because all I believe you really feel, you who caused all of this, is that your pouch is two quinars heavier.”
“I am moments away from being shipped off to only the gods know where to deal with who knows what, like a mercenary. My mind is a swirl of a thousand things that can go wrong, and if that’s not enough, I’m leaving my daughter behind, not knowing if I’ll ever see her again. Volk, I’m the only woman in a group of twelve. One of them is the son of a woman who hates my guts and wants nothing more than to see me out of her way. Do I even need to tell you what I’m sure as fuck is going to happen to me before next morning? So, tell me again that you know how I feel.”
He exhaled and handed her the sack. “For the road.”
She threw it on the ground.
“These are good men you’re traveling with, Natir.”
“They are all good men until they need what they need.”
“Gull is leading them and he’s not the kind of a man who tolerates any shameful—”
“Oh, fuck you, that’s the only thing I’ve got going for me, go ahead and jinx it.”
“Listen to me, you need to worry about none of that. No one is expecting you to do anything. Just tag along for the ride and you’ll be back before you know it. However, it doesn’t hurt to head a word of advice.”
He pulled her farther away.
“Look,” he whispered, “I wanted you to join this party. With or without what happened between me and Tarania, I would still have wanted you to be with them.”
He nodded towards the men, who were exchanging goodbyes with their families.
“Look at them… They are tough men, Natir. Men you can rely on. But that’s all that they are. All muscle and no brains. Point out an enemy for them and they’ll kill them, but what will happen when they’re confused and can no longer tell who the enemy is…? That’s when you need someone different. Someone who can adapt to the situation and with eyes that can see what they can’t. So tell me, do you see someone like that among them? Do you see another Alfred…? That’s why I wanted you to go. You’ve got sharp instincts and you are very flexible, you can adapt to the world rather than try to bend it your way.”
“You really are stupid, aren’t you? This job is their business, not mine. I know nothing about it. And even if I noticed something they missed, do you really think that any of them will listen to what I say? I’m a woman.”
“That’s why you will need to get close to Earhart. He may be young and reckless and I don’t like him, but the truth is that he got potential. If you play your game right then he can be your voice.”
She rolled her eyes.
“You’re a woman, you can easily close the gap between the two of you. Talk to him. Gain his trust. And when the time calls for it, you can put your brain in his head.”
“Is that the nonsense you tricked Alfred with? Is that why he approved this?”
“No, he was already of the same mind.”
“What exactly did you tell him?”
“I only told him the truth as I see it: This party needs someone like you. And he had already realized that, too, but he just hadn’t decided yet on who. All that I did was make that choice for him. Nothing less, nothing more.”
She yanked her arm from his hand and hissed, “It’s just a pack of wolves they’re up against.” She headed to the wagon. “And I hate wolves.”
Volk approached her and added, “One more thing. I pray that wolves or bandits is all what this’s about, but just in case it’s not, watch out for the people.”
She raised an eyebrow. Volk put the rag, which had the tooth they had found, in her palm and unfolded it.
“One man’s abdomen is no place for another’s teeth… Watch out for the people.”
They were interrupted when Natir noticed Diva approaching them.
Natir met her half way. “Diva, why are you here? Did something happen? Is Aina all right?”
Diva led Natir by the shoulder to turn her around.
“What are you doing?”
She made Natir turn around again, and Natir could see now that Diva was measuring her thoroughly using a thread in her hands—tying knots in it after each measurement.
When she was done, she gave Natir a sweet hug goodbye and went back where she came from.
Volk shrugged. “I guess she wanted to know your size.”
Natir rolled her eyes and then poked him in the shoulder with her finger and grimaced. “Talk to your daughter. Make her speak again. Because, honestly, this is getting weirder each time.”
As their group departed, Natir sat in the back of the wagon, wrapped in her cloak and looking back at the village as it retreated farther and farther away.
In the end, Alfred didn’t come to see her off. Not that it would have changed anything, or that she herself knew what to expect from it, but still she couldn’t help but to let the feeling of abandonment fill her chest with bitterness.
She blew a breath and looked down at her hand where she unfolded the rag Volk had given her. For a long time she stared with a solemn face at the tooth with no clue coming to mind as to what it meant, if anything at all.