The Bereft Man
Natir took the chance and approached Earhart as he left the group to gather wood for the fire.
He shook his head when he saw her coming. “I don’t want to hear it, Natir.”
“Look, Earhart, sir—”
“Just Earhart is fine, there’s no one else around.”
She tried a different approach from her previous ones. She stood next to him as he worked, joined her hands behind her back and softened her voice.
“I know that your mother and my master have issues, and I know you think she has issues with me as well—”
Earhart chuckled. “With you, too? This is the first time I’ve heard of this.”
His statement surprised her.
“She got a lot of issues to go around, that woman,” he finished.
“Well, no, we don’t, not really,” she crouched to his level and attempted to help him. “That’s what I’m trying to explain.”
“Whatever you got to say, Natir, I’m not interested.”
He refused to take the wood pieces she collected for him and left to find more elsewhere.
Natir was baffled by his constant rejections to her approaches. It was as if the closer she physically attempted to go near him, the more distance he wanted to put between them.
She followed him. “Earhart, I need your help.” He ignored her, so she raised her voice, “You’re the only one who would listen!”
He stopped and exhaled, “What?”
“Gull is making a mistake.”
“Gull is the strongest and most experienced man we have.”
“And he’s making a mistake. No one would camp at a killing site and call it smart. He’s putting us all in danger. Men will die.”
He forced her arms open and began putting the wood on them, gritting his teeth as he did. “That’s what men do. They eat. They fuck. They kill. And they die. But you wouldn’t understand that, now would you?”
“No, I don’t. Not if it’s pointless, I certainly don’t. I know you understand this, I know you’re smarter than to think what they’re doing is right. Volk himself admitted that you’re different, that you’re smarter and sharper than the rest of them, and he’s as far from being your best friend as he can possibly be.”
Earhart waved his arm dismissively and resumed his work.
Natir chased after him. “Why are you playing along with this?”
Earhart was taken by sudden rage. He grabbed her by her cloak, causing her to drop all the wood, and forcefully pulled her behind a tree and nailed her against it, just out of the others’ sight.
He peeked at the camp to make sure no one was looking then faced her, inhaling fire into his lungs.
“You want to know why? I’ll tell you. It’s precisely because of what you’ve just said, because I’m different from them, and not in a good way. I’m the son of a slave, Natir. Do you understand what this means? I might be a freeman and they might be treating me as an equal, but behind my back they whisper the same things over and over again: the son of a slave, the fatherless. Any one of them can spit it in my face and tell me how their fathers had had my mother for fun one night and I just might be their bastard brother. And I can’t even deny it. So, tell me, how much respect can I command on that?”
Earhart threw her to the ground and stood over her.
“You think I care less who my mother likes and who she hates? Curse it all. Curse her. She is my shame. She gave me nothing, not even the simplest thing that every other man is born with: respect. The only respect I can hope to have is the one I earn. So curse you, and curse her, and curse every slave that ever lived. If it was up to me, I’d kill them all. There’s nothing I hate more than a slave.”
Face-down on the ground, Natir trembled with strong emotions as each word he said felt like rubbing mud on her face.
“Is that what you hold against me?” she sniveled, on the verge of tears. “What I was made to be? What dirt for respect that I’m worth?”
She looked up at him with watery eyes. “I didn’t create this world, Earhart, I’m just stuck in it.”
Earhart turned his back on her and left.
“You get the wood. And stop following me. The last thing I need is to be associated with the likes of you, filthy slave-whore.”
Natir raised her voice and called after him, “And how much respect does a corpse command?”
Natir got up, with her hand depending on a tree. “That thing will come for us, and you know it. If you can’t help but to play along with them then at least talk them into not drinking tonight. At least talk them into keeping an eye out for what’s coming. Because if you don’t then that’s how much respect we’ll all worth before morning.”
Earhart moved on, not bothering to look back and not saying anything.
Natir slept on the ground, cowering beneath her cloak from the cold; she woke up, startled, by the big hand that covered her mouth.
The man who lay next to her signaled Natir to stay quiet and took his hand back.
Her senses were on full alert.
They’d slept in a circle around one of the broken carts, so she could not see everyone but the ones she saw were all awake and only pretending to be asleep.
Trying to figure out what alerted the men, she followed the gaze of the one who woke her up and soon she recognized a shape in the dark.
Just across one of the campfires, there was a ghostly shadow stalking them. It looked weird; it had the figure of a man, but it moved like an animal.
Natir noticed the man beside her secretly reach for his axe so she did the same and, underneath the cloak, she got a hold of a knife in her belt.
She lost sight of the thing for just a moment as she moved and when she looked again, she could not see a trace of it.
Her chest heaved. The anticipation was intimidating.
Someone shouted a war cry and immediately Natir and everyone else were armed and on their feet.