Each day that passed without seeing Jehvad, I found myself growing more and more disappointed. I tried to keep my mind occupied by cleaning shells for my mother while she won over customers’ hearts with her enchanting personality.
Lost in thought, I sat on the dry grass beside our tent, watching the way the colours of the shell changed each time I rubbed it with the sea sponge.
“You look so pretty when you’re concentrating.”
I dropped the shell and looked up from the dark shadow cast over me by Jehvad’s silhouette. “I was beginning to believe you’d never return,” I told him truthfully.
Jehvad stared at me as though I’d grown two heads. “Of course I’d return! I’ve just been training with the other warriors—among other things.”
I shrugged and went back to cleaning the shell.
He crouched down and took the shell from me. “Remarkable how the sea can give us such treasures,” he said, inspecting it.
“There are treasures all over the world if you look for them.” It was something Mama had always said.
His brown eyes warmed. “I’ve already found the greatest treasure of all.”
I felt myself blush. I didn’t know how so respond to such a compliment. “Khadji may not be the great man you think he is,” I warned, remembering he’d told me he’d come here to join the new leader’s army. “Many say he’s cruel.”
His response came quickly. “He may not be a great man, but he’s a great leader. That’s all that matters.”
I opened my mouth to answer, but he spoke before I could get any words out.
“Meet me outside of your hut tonight. I have a surprise for you.” His face lit up.
I decided to drop the subject of Khadji. I was happy to see him. I didn’t want to start an argument, so I closed my mouth and nodded.
“Good. I’ll see you tonight, amaries,” he called in a sing-song voice as he strode away.
I wondered what the surprise was. I scooped up the shells I’d taken to clean, put them into a basket, and brought them inside the tent.
Mama gave me a curious look as I hummed a joyful tune. It was just the two of us that day. Papa had gone to collect wood for his carvings and would meet us back at the hut in the evening.
Once I was sure my parents were asleep that night, I sneaked outside to wait for Jehvad. The air smelled of dirt and wet grass due to the dewy ground. The town was mostly quiet, except for the odd howl from a wild dog.
I paced with impatience. He said he wanted to meet tonight. So where is he? Annoyance had crept up on me.
After what felt like an eternity, I heard footsteps. I turned and faced the figure wearing a clean white tunic, with pants to match, walking towards me. Panic rose deep in my stomach. Who’s this strange man?
I was relieved when the man got close enough for me to recognize. “Jehvad! What took you so long? And where in all the gods names did you find such garments?”
“Apologies, amaries. I got held up. One of my mates lent me the outfit.” He brushed a hand over his clothed chest.
I eyed him with suspicion. “What mate?”
“Another warrior in training,” he replied.
I had yet to meet any of his mates, but I relented. He had no reason to lie.
He held up a piece of dark cloth. “Trust me?”
“Of course, though I don’t understand why you’d need to cover my eyes.” This was strange, but I was curious.
“It’s part of the surprise.” His full lips curved up mischievously.
I turned around and let him tie the soft cloth over my eyes. Once he was sure I couldn’t see, he took ahold of my hand and led me away from my hut. I prayed we’d return before my parents woke to find me missing. Papa would kill me—or Jehvad. He would most likely kill Jehvad.
I had no idea where we were going, or even which direction he was taking me. The feeling of his warm, calloused hand put me in ease regardless of the fact that I was at his complete mercy. I realized in that moment, I truly did trust him; a fact that shocked me more than being blindfolded and led towards some unknown destination.
The terrain grew smoother beneath my feet the longer we walked, and the gentle breeze almost disappeared.
“Here we are,” he said, stopping me. There was a creak before he added, “Alright, step up. Just a bit. There you go.”
The temperature warmed slightly, and the scent of old smoke filled my nostrils.
Jehvad untied the cloth from my face. What I saw when I opened my eyes, filled me with a sense of awe. We were in some sort of empty building. The whole room was filled with tons of glowing, white tapered candles. A purple blanket lay in the center of the room.
“How did you find this place?” I asked with fascination, turning to take in the romantic sight.
“My mate told me about it. It’s an abandoned smoke shop. Men used to come here to share cigars and tell stories. The business grew so popular they had to relocate to a larger shop. No one’s yet claimed this one.”
“And the candles? Where did you get those?” I asked, suspicion creeping into my tone once again.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “I didn’t steal them, if that’s what you’re implying.”
I waited for him to continue.
His lips molded into a reassuring smile. “I’ve been helping an elderly woman. Fetching her water each day and helping her with other physical tasks. She gives me coin in exchange. I’m trying to do away with my thieving ways, believe it or not.”
The thought of him helping an elder, even if it was for coin, warmed my heart. I stood on the tips of my toes and kissed him behind the ear. Pulling away I asked one more question. “And the blanket?”
“I borrowed it from her. What? Don’t look at me like that. I’ll return it. She won’t even notice it’s gone. She has an abundance of them. She used to be a quilter.”
“As long as you return it,” I said, taking a step back.
“You have my word, amaries.” He took my hand again and led me to the soft, thick quilt. I could tell it was of high quality by the tight stitching. Jehvad ran his hand across my cheek and down my neck, stopping at my collar bone. “Does this please you? I know it’s not much, but I wanted to do something special for you.”
“I love it.” I leaned forward and put my palm on his chest. Being with him…it felt so right.
He ran his hands up my arms. I reveled at how they felt on my bare skin. He pulled me closer, and our lips met. I could’ve gotten lost in his kiss for an eternity. I wanted to, but he pulled away and said in a voice barely above a whisper, “We don’t have to do this. We can just talk if you aren’t ready.”
I’d shared kisses with others before, but I’d never lain with any of them. Now I gave a silent prayer to Minyota, the goddess of love and desire, for her guidance. I bit my lip, sitting on my knees. “I’m ready.”
My answer was all he needed to continue. We slowly peeled each other’s clothing off until skin met delicious skin. We explored each other’s bodies until no space was left untouched, and when he finally took me, I let out a cry of pleasure that shook the world.
We lay curled together afterwards, in comfortable silence. I couldn’t remember a time when I’d felt happier.
I forgot all about being discovered missing by my parents. When we were in danger of the sun climbing the horizon, we gathered everything, leaving the room completely empty. We walked back to my hut hand in hand. Jehvad told me stories of his childhood. He’d always dreamed he would grow up to fight in a mighty army. I loved how certain he was of his future. I lived my life day to day; content just to have food in my belly, but could there be more waiting for me? If Jehvad got his way, there certainly would.