Behind her the wooden beams of the caravans creaked. Their cloth awnings rapped like drums in the grasp of the wind. The elk grazed greedily in an open space next to camp. The clan’s children laughed as they played freely among the trees.
Zahirana snuck over the last hill out of camp, her bare feet quiet across the plush moss of the wilds. She drew closer to her target. Each of her breaths was perfectly timed so that not even his elven ears could pick up the sound.
She crouched down and steadied her toes and fingers into the earth. She filled her lungs and when she could no longer contain herself, she leapt forward. “Sarlen!”
He spun around just as Zahirana shoved him. He stumbled sideways against a tree. And when he grouched at her she couldn’t hear him over her own laughter. “Thanks, mataelu. That’s exactly what I needed this morning. A heart attack.”
She chuckled and smiled teasingly. “That’s what sisters are for.”
“What are you even doing out here? Shouldn’t you be studying tomes with Ris-Asala?”
The young elf rolled her head back and groaned. “Can’t she find someone else to take her place as chieftain?”
“No,” he laughed. “The gods chose you.”
“That’s hardly a proper system of government, don’t you think?”
Sarlen tossed his hands up. “Take it up with the gods?”
She raised her chin and peered down her nose at him. “Fine. Let’s take a look at those temple ruins we passed. I can make my complaints there.” She wagged an eyebrow at him. “I bet we could find something for the clan as well.”
He huffed and folded his arms. He turned away from her and leaned into the tree closest to him. “Not a chance. You always get me into trouble. And this time, I’m staying put.” His gaze lowered to his arm as he pretended to examine the Ris-Amethan, the holy tattoos, etched into his skin.
She crept forward and batted her eyes. “My dear older brother…”
“I have guard duty. I’m protecting the clan.”
“Imagine if we found old relics and brought them back to Ris-Loresa. He might reward us.”
Sarlen stared sideways at her. His stony expression cracked however and he began to smirk. “I suppose guarding the clan could mean checking the area for threats.”
Zahirana nodded firmly. “Exactly. You can’t foresee incoming attacks unless you patrol around more.”
“A wicked sister you are, mataelu.” Sarlen scowled but he marched into the wilds towards the ruins. “Ris-Asala Athenaya only wants what’s best for you. You know that, right?” He looked over his shoulder for just a moment but she saw the softness in his eyes.
She sighed and nodded. Her voice was softer, “I’m a better marksman than a healer. Maybe they read the signs wrong. Maybe the gods actually chose you instead.”
He snorted. “I can’t use magic.”
“Have you tried,” she mused.
Sarlen reached over and quickly flicked her in the head.
“Traitor,” she cursed but chuckled soon after.
Zahirana quickened her pace to avoid further discussion of her responsibilities. “I think the ruins are just over here. They looked like maybe they were dedicated to O’fyon.”
“The wind god,” said Sarlen with a rising tone. “That’s odd, isn’t it?”
She hummed her agreement. “His temples are usually on mountains or in valleys.” Zahirana waved her hand about to push aside any concerns. “Who cares, mataelu. It doesn’t matter which god it is. Perhaps we’ll find an old relic or a piece of history.”
Sarlen dropped his hand on top of her head. “I know you don’t care about history.”
“No. But I do like adventures.” She tugged at the leather strap across her chest and shook the quiver on her back. “I even brought my bow in case we run into trouble.”
His hand fell away and his steps slowed.
Zahirana turned around to find him standing stiffly. “What is it?”
He scratched at his head, dark wavy hair barely tied back with a strip of leather. Sarlen got most of their mother’s features, her wavy hair and golden brown eyes. Zahirana often found herself looking at him with a slight spark of jealousy.
Sarlen mummbled, “Aren’t you too old for this? Aren’t we too old for this?”
Her eyes fluttered. “Too old to rummage around an old ruin?”
His brows flattened and the corners of his mouth pinched. “It’s been almost twenty autumns since your birth.”
She looked down at her leather greaves, made from the hides of deers. She had hunted them herself years ago. The clan’s craftsman first taught her how to care for the hide and properly tan it when she was only ten years old. Now she could easily hunt and clothe the whole clan if she needed to.
Sarlen stepped forward and grabbed her shoulders. “I know you hate reading old, dusty books. I know you hate studying history and whatever else chieftains study…”
Zahirana laughed but it faded because she knew. She knew Sarlen was right. She really was too old for dragging her older brother into trouble. She was too old to be abandoning her responsibilities for childish pursuits of digging around for treasure.
She looked through the bright verdant green of the wilds. Sunlight poured between the open canopy above. Thick vines strangled tree trunks and hung limpy from branches. Above the birds chattered in a flock of colors as various as the flowers between them.
“It’s just so beautiful,” she whispered. “Who cares about the past when we have all this?”
Sarlen squeezed her shoulders. “Let’s check out this ruin. But after this, promise me you’ll try.”
She forced a smile and rolled her eyes. “I’ll try.” Her expression hardened and her eyes narrowed. “You’re only two years older than me, you know.”
“And I’m more responsible by far.”
“I’m a better hunter by far.” She raised her chin and before Sarlen could flick her in the forehead again, she raced off in the direction of the temple. Her laughter and the wind drowned out whatever curses her brother was spitting at her.