A Woman OF Many Hearts
Approaching midday, Alfred’s hall looked nothing like Natir had come to know it. An empty and quiet space littered with food, dropped seats and scattered cups was all that had become of it at this hour.
Other than the old slave cleaning up the mess with no hurry, not a soul was inside the hall but herself, sitting alone in front of a cold, untouched meal.
Natir got up, squared her shoulders and inhaled deeply, telling herself in the back of her head that she will feel better once she gets it done wih.
She headed outside and was welcomed by the sight of the snowy village’s empty streets, large fires, and scent of burnt animal flesh as the smoke from the offerings to Veles, Morana and Perun rose from every corner.
She headed towards the main gate with the number of people in her way increasing the closer she did until she was lost amongst a large crowd of families and loved ones, bidding the departing men farewell.
She turned towards her caller and realized it was Teyrnon. He was waving his hand for her to come closer. He was accompanied by a chubby and awfully friendly-looking blonde.
“Teyrnon, I heard you were coming, too.”
“Yes. I’d like you to meet my companion. Natir, this is Olfa.”
“Pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Olfa said sweetly, “I look forward to our wonderful friendship together, and I hope my love didn’t give you much of a hard time. He can be pretty lazy sometimes and has no problem leaving his share of work to others. So, I must apologize on his behalf in advance.”
“Not at all, he’s very reliable, and also, congratulations. You’ve got yourself a very loyal partner.”
Olfa’s face darkened suddenly. She turned to Teyrnon. “What does this mean?”
“Why did she say that?” She turned to Natir. “You, why did you say that? What are you hinting at?”
Teyrnon laughed nervously. “Olfaaa, we’re in public.”
Natir was taken aback. “What did I say?”
In a sudden change of character, Olfa grew openly aggressive, not holding back her voice or anything else.
“That he’s loyal! Why did you choose that virtue in particular? What were you hinting at?”
“Nothing, nothing! I was just saying—”
“What happened between the two of you? Did he have you, is that it?”
“Then why did you choose that word? What is it that you’re trying to hide, you little wench? You, you’ve been with her, haven’t you? Haven’t you?”
“Olfa, let’s just calm down for a moment—”
“Of course you have, why wouldn’t you? Just look at her!” The tears gathered in her eyes and she shouted with true hurt, “I was wrong to put my trust in you, I should have listened to my mother—”
Natir tried to explain, “Look, I misspoke, really, I did, and I’m truly sorry, all right? Nothing happened between us, that’s what I was trying to say, nothing could ever happen! You’ve got the most loyal man in the world and he’s so dedicated to you only and—”
“And how did you know that? Huh? How on earth was such a topic brought up?” She gasped. “So that’s what happened! You tried to seduce him, didn’t you?”
“Olfa, really, stop this!”
Natir’s jaw dropped when Olfa pulled out a rolling pin she was hiding under her dress and came at her with it.
“Oh, I hope you didn’t count your teeth, you little slut, because you wouldn’t want to know how many you’ll be missing.”
Natir retreated while Teyrnon quickly held Olfa back. “OLFA!”
“No! Let go of me, I’ll teach this homewrecker a lesson—” She screamed like a mad woman.
Natir seized the chance and made her escape through the crowd while her teeth were still intact. She made it to a safe distance before breathing with relief, Olfa’s screams at her back begging for a fight.
Her eyes spotted them; Natir didn’t need to search anymore as she located Aina and Diva, but before she could call them, she saw them go down on their knees before one of the fires.
She stood behind them and waited.
She didn’t need to throw a second thought as to what they were praying for: her safe return, and Alfred’s.
Aina was telling her prayer, but Diva remained silent. It made a smile bloom on Natir’s lips as she realized that not even to her own gods did Diva give her voice.
Diva made her offering. Then, to Natir’s surprise, she gave her own earring to Aina and nodded for her to throw it into the fire for an offering.
When the two of them turned around, Aina ran to Natir, who took her in her arms, kissed her and exchanged loving words with her.
She then put Aina back down, and approached Diva.
“Diva,” her voice trembled with emotion, “never before have I wished to hear words from you as much as I do now. For that...for that I really can’t find any words of my own to tell you how I feel… You...you have become so many things to me. So many wonderful things. And I—” Natir didn’t know what to say next.
Diva was so touched. She signaled how she felt with her hands.
Natir sniffled with half a laugh. “I...I’m not sure what that means.”
She opened her arms to Natir instead and Natir rushed to embrace her with all her soul.
“Thank you, thank you for everything.”
She retreated a step back, tears on her cheeks and holding Diva by the forearms.
“Please look after Aina for me. She is every beat of my heart, and there isn’t a soul in the world whom I would trust with her but you.”
Diva nodded with a sad smile.
“Also, I have no doubt everything will be all right, but just in case…” She took off her cat-eye necklace and put it in Diva’s hand. “It was my mother’s, and it’s so dear to me. If the worst was to happen and I did not return, please make sure Aina gets it. Just in case.”
Diva nodded and looked away, tears welling up in her eyes. Natir made her look back at her.
“I’ll be back for sure,” she laughed and sobbed both together, “sooner than you think. And you better not have taught her anything funny by then or you’ll have to deal with me, all right?”
Diva sniffled and suppressed a laugh.
Natir leaned toward her, kissed Diva’s eyes and wiped her tears off, “I love you, Diva. You truly are the sister I never had.”
Diva turned to a rage of emotions, trying not to laugh and trying not to cry. She embraced Natir’s pinky with hers, holding Natir to her word.
“Yes. I promise, I will be back.”
Natir suddenly yelped as she received a smack to the back of her head.
Agatha gritted, “You’ll be telling your goodbyes until tomorrow? We’re already moving out.”
“Okay, I was just—”
She leaned toward her and hissed, “Get your cheap ass in that wagon and STAY THERE. I want to know exactly where you are, so don’t you go jumping around from one wagon to the next as you please. You got that?”
“All right! All right!”
As Agatha left, Natir leaned toward Diva. “I’ll worry about this bitch, you worry about that one,” she whispered, nodding at Tarania.
Natir then carried Aina. “Be a good girl now, my love. Momma will be back as soon as she can. I want you to stay by Diva’s side at all times and listen to everything she tells you, okay?”
“Aunt Diva doesn’t talk.”
She chuckled. “Yes, um, well, just do as she says, I mean signals, I mean.. Look, just be good, okay? Don’t give her a hard time. All right, love?”
Aina nodded back. Natir kissed her and handed her over to Diva.
“Please look after her.”
Diva signaled at her heart.
Almost right away Agatha appeared again, roaring at Natir, “We’re moving!”
“Will you give us a moment, my gods!”
“WHERE IS SHE? I’LL KILL HER!”
Natir’s eyes flung wide open when she heard them coming. Olfa was on the loose, causing an uproar as she barged through the crowd looking for Natir with Teyrnon shouting at her to stop.
Agatha muttered to herself while searching the crowd with her eyes. “Was that Olfa?”
Natir asked innocently, “Um, which wagon did you say you want me at?”
She kissed Aina and Diva in a hurry and rushed to the wagon. “I’ll be back soon. Wait for me.”
Natir jumped into the wagon, pushing one of the men out of her way. “Make way, make way, quickly.” She shut the wagon’s cover.
“Well, look who decided to join me.”
In the dark, Natir searched the faces of the men inside and recognized Volk among them.
“Oh, you were here?”
He shrugged. “Where else would I be? I am the blacksmith, and I will be needed. You, on the other hand, look like you’re running away from something.”
Teyrnon’s voice rang in her ears. They were right outside.
“Olfa, knock it out! I really have to go.”
“GO! LEAVE ME AND GO AFTER YOUR SLUT! I HOPE YOU DIE! I HOPE YOU DIE AND NEVER COME BACK!” Olfa screamed then burst into loud crying.
“Is that Olfa?” a man asked. He reached out with his hand to open the cover and see what’s happening.
“Don’t!” Natir stopped the man before he could open it.
“Natir, what did you do?”
She whispered, “I’ll explain later. Will you please tell the wagoner to move out already? My teeth are in danger.”
* * *
The convoy was on the move.
Alfred led the way, heading east to meet up with the main force, and from behind him there marched a hundred horsemen and over two hundred warriors.
Natir opened the cover just as their wagon was going up a hill.
She inhaled deeply, filling her chest with the chill air, and watched the sight of the snowy village getting farther and farther away.
Her emotions got the best of her and she felt a warm tear slowly glide down her cheek.
She couldn’t force herself to take her eyes off it nor control the mad throbbing in her chest as she went into the unknown, chasing one heart and leaving behind so many hearts.
To be continued…
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