“Once, a long time ago. Before the time of the great kings, there was the age of the ancient kings. The kings that ruled a faraway land, from the sky. Benevolent, and kind they ruled their people and their kind justly and fairly. That is until man grew greedy, and ambitious. Coming into contact with methods of the dark world, they slayed the unsuspecting kings and their families, destroying the era of peace and bringing us into a new age. An age of fear and destruction.”
I roll my eyes as I listen to the gasps of the children. This is grans favorite story. The story of the ancient kings. She tells it at least once every new moon. And the kids always act the same. As if they haven’t heard it before. I press the cool stone against my blade, running it along the edge as I’ve been doing the whole night.
I used to be fascinated with these stories as well. But everyone grows up eventually. And I had to much sooner than everyone else due to the simple fact that I am different. Cursed. The people of this village hated me the moment that Gran brought me into the village. And they let that be known. The only reason that I am even here is because Gran needs me. Her husband died years ago, and now that she’s gotten even older, she can barely take care of herself anymore. So I do.
“Ok children. It’s time to go before your parents begin to worry over you.” She says softly. I smile at the groans of disappointment that fill the room. But I keep my back to them. The children of this village are curious little things. They constantly wonder why my hair is white. Why my eyes are blue. Why my skin is brown. Their parents tell them constantly it’s because I am cursed, and to stay away from me. But they don’t listen. At first they would come to Gran’s tent because they were tying to see me. Now they stay for Gran. Which I don’t mind seeing as she could use the company.
I listen as the feet scurry out of Gran’s hut, leaving us alone. There is no sound other than the light crackle of the fire at the center of the hut, and the sound of the stone as it scrapes across my blade sharpening it.
I pull it up, letting the flames cast an orange glow on the steel and inspecting it before I set it down. I stand to face Gran.
“You would think they would be tired of hearing that fairytale.” I laugh. Gran smiles at me, shaking her head. Gran is an older woman. Old enough to be acknowledged as the village elder. But she gave up that title for the village crazy lady the day she defended me to the villagers. Even though they hate me, they never told on Gran for harboring me.
I don’t know if it was out of respect for her, or out of fear for the king.
“It isn’t a fairy tale, Neytiri.” She says as she bends over picking up the small bowls the children left. I shake my head moving to help her. I bend over and begin picking up the bowls.
“You used to believe them, Neytiri. What happened to you?” She asks. My smile slowly falls and I shrug.
“I grew up, Gran.” I say. I move to stand, but Gran places her palm over mine. I look up and she has a sad smile on her face.
“Growing up, and growing ignorant, are two very different things my child.” She says softly. She runs her thumb over the symbol on my cheek. Ten years ago, I ran away from home. Everyone my age ganged up on me when the village chieftain died. They said it was my fault. Because i was cursed. They pelted me with rocks, and harsh words, and I ran away.
I can’t remember anything beyond that other than waking up, with Gran’s worried face staring down at me, and this symbol on my face. It was just another reason for the villagers to call me a curse. I pull away from her, moving to place the bowls in the basket.
“Something is troubling you, child?”
I take a deep breath.
“Why don’t we leave here, Gran?” I ask. She looks at me in confusion.
“This is our home, why would you ever want to leave?” She asks. She look shocked.
“This is your home, Gran... I’ve been doing some thinking. Maybe it’s time for me to set out on my own. And find my purpose.” I say.
“No, Neytiri you aren’t leaving this village. You’re safe here. Only here. Out there, the moment anyone sees the likes of you, they will kidnap you and give you up for ransom to the king.” She says in a hurry.
I shake my head.
“Gran, these people are going to turn me in themselves. The rumors are beginning to scare them. They’ll turn on you and turn me in the moment they sense any trouble coming this direction.” I say. Apparently, the King is dead. No one knows the details of how or why. Just that he’s dead, and the new king is scouring the region, destroying any and everyone in his path. And I fear we will be next.
“Gran, why is staying here so important to you? We have to leave before it’s too late.” I say. I turn and face her, but she’s looking into the fire.
“Gran?” I ask. She looks at me, and I see sadness in her gaze.
“How old are you now, child?” I blink in confusion at her question.
“Twenty-one.” I say. She smiles, looking back to the flames.
“You came to me when you were only four years old. I found you, covered in the blood of your people no doubt, hidden in the roots of a calypso tree. And I’ve protected you everyday since. Do you not trust me, Neytiri?” She asks. I shake my head.
“I trust you, Gran. It’s the villagers I don’t trust.” I say. She nods her head, walking to the tapestry separating her bedroom from the open area. She pauses before entering.
“Change is coming, Neytiri. You cannot run from it.” She murmurs before stepping under the drapery.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Sweat is running down my face, trickling down my spine. My knuckles are burning and red, and my thighs are screaming at me. But these are all weaknesses I cannot afford. I lung, hitting the tree again and again and again.
I’ve been training myself to fight since I awoke that night all those years ago. I don’t know what it was that drove me, but I refused to be bullied anymore. I wanted to be able to defend myself. And I did.
“Growing up, and growing ignorant are two different things.”
Gran’s words ring in my ears. I’m not being ignorant. I’m being cautious. She can’t understand what I’m going through living here. The pain, and misery. The constant looks of hatred. She could never. My legs finally give out, and I fall to the ground. My breathing chokes in my throat, and I finally realize that I’m crying.
I hastily wipe my eyes. Just today some of the villagers cornered me and spewed out hatred. I never understood why. I am the last of my kind. The only one that is left. Yet they wish that I was gone as well, and I still don’t know why.
I tense when I feel something unfamiliar, and immediately reach for my blade, jabbing towards the intruder. Our blades clash, jarring my body violently. My vision is abnormally sharp in the night, so I can see him. He’s armored. I look around, and see no one else.
“Who are you.” I snap. He doesn’t speak, only pulls his sword and swings again. I dodge and jump to the left, rolling in the dirt. I pick up my blade, standing to my full height.
“Ill give you one last chance to lower your blade and tell me who you are. Then, I may let you leave with your life.” I warn. He scoffs, and takes off running at me with all his might. I take a deep breath, and feel the vibrations beneath my feet, the wind in my hair, and can see his every movement. I open my eyes and with one swift movement, I slice through his gut.
He collapses in shock, and begins gurgling on the ground. He’s dying. I know he is. But not as quick as I would have allowed. I stand, walking to where he is.
“I can save you still. But you must tell me who you are, and who sent you.” I say with a calm voice. I have no intention of saving him. But he doesn’t know that. I kneel next to him, his panicked gaze locking on to mine. I place my hand on his body, sending a soothing rhythm through him. It’s something I’ve been able to do since I turned sixteen. Gran says it’s because of who my people were. We were divinely favored.
“Who are you.” I ask softly. His breathing slows, and he looks at me with wide eyes.
“I...I’m an assassin from Kahn.. A few of your villagers hired me... Please... I don’t want to die..” He gurgles. I take my hand from his body.
“I don’t want to either. But it doesn’t look like you were going to give me that option.” I say. I stand, walking away from the clearing and picking up my blade on the way out. I knew it. The villagers have all been acting strange since I became a woman. My birthday was a week ago, and they’ve been worse towards me since. They’re afraid that some new form of power will appear with my coming of age.
I make my way through the village. The moon is high in the sky, and everyone is in their huts asleep. I can feel a burning hatred for these people in my gut. I should slaughter them all while they are unsuspecting in their sleep.
The only reason I won’t, is because of Gran. These are her people. But I cannot stay here. It’s too dangerous for her. They hired someone to kill me, what’s stopping them from hiring someone to kill Gran as well? Nothing.
I step into her hut, doing my best not to make a sound. I go to my side, gathering my things and get ready to leave for good. I want to tell her goodbye but I cannot. She would never let me leave. I pause in the center of the hut, looking around. At the place I was raised. The place I must leave.
I’m walking out the hut, when I hear it. It’s faint. But I hear it. The slight rustle of fabric. I look to where Gran is usually sleep. The sound was too sudden to be her rolling over. I pull out my sword, making my way towards the drape that separates her room from the center of the hut.
I place my palm against it, jerking it down, and my stomach drops. Gran is looking up at me with terrified eyes. There’s a blade at her throat, and a villager behind that blade. He’s looking at me with all the hatred of his people.
I’ve never feared these people. They’ve just been pesky bugs in my side. Throwing things, saying things, but none of it could hurt me. Not like this. My arms and legs are tied, and I’m laying on my stomach. The hard rocks and dirt is digging into my flesh. I blink my eyes trying to clear the dirt, but to no avail. But in all my discomfort, I can’t bring myself to care.
I look in front of me, and see Gran. Tied to a pyre. Her eye is swollen, her lip is bleeding, and she’s unconscious. The villagers are all gathered around, watching. Some in disdain. And some in excitement. I struggle with my bonds, trying to break free but i can’t.
A sharp pain explodes in my stomach as someone walks by me, kicking me. Everything that I had eaten prior to comes up as I explode in a coughing fit. There’s a rough yank on my hair, and I’m forced to look up.
Loris is standing in front of me, right by Gran with a torch in his hands. He has an evil smile on his face as he looks at me. No doubt this is his doing.
“For too long, this cursed bitch has plagued our village. For too long she has lived here, cursing our food, our children, our homes. Hidden and protected by this traitor! Well I say, no more! It’s time to take a stand. To end them both!” A loud cheer rises up from everyone. I look in a panic though at Gran as she becomes conscious.
“No.. Please..” I groan out. Loris doesn’t listen though.
“The old kings reign is no more! The blood king has risen up, and taken the kingdoms! He is coming, and according to everyone, he is coming with a vengeance! We have the last Ikniri in our grasp! We will give her over to him, and finally find peace in our village!” He screams. People agree and scream with him. Some throwing rocks at me.
Tears fill my vision.
“Do what you want with me, but please just don’t hurt her! Please! She’s an innocent old woman!” I cry out. My outburst earns me a kick in the side, and I grunt in pain.
“Silence witch!” Loris hisses. “You have no voice here.” He spits in disgust. I lower my head, sobbing.
“This woman, is charged with bringing this unholy curse into our home, and destroying our way of life for the past years. She has caused a food shortage, a drought, a war between us and neighboring tribes! Well I say no more!” Cheers fly up again. Gran’s eyes are open, and she’s trying to make sense of everything now.
“Gran! Gran, don’t worry I’ll get you out of this!” I cry. Her confused gaze turns to fear as she realizes what is happening. She struggles weakly with her bonds, as do I. I can’t break them. Loris walks next to her.
“We are sacrificing this unholy woman that brought this unholy cursed one into our home, and with her death we welcome good fortune!” He cries.
“No!” I scream, but I’m too late. He drops the torch onto the pyre, and it catches immediately. I scream and struggle.
“Gran!” I scream at the top of my lungs. I can feel the ropes burning into my flesh as I try and break the bonds, but can’t. The fire grows with each passing second, consuming more and more of the dried hay and making its way to Gran. Her eyes widen, and she begins to cough.
“Please! Please stop this!” I scream. Everyone is watching, no one is making a move to help her or stop this madness. I struggle as hard as I can as I watch the flame lick it’s way onto Grans flesh. Her eyes squeeze together, and she purses her lips together in pain.
“Gran!” I cry out again. I get another kick to my stomach, rolling me over and onto my back. Grans pained moans fill the air, and when I look up I see the fire has reached her. It’s crawling up her body. Her moans turn to gasps, and finally screams.
“Noooo!!!!!” I screech. Blood is trickling down my arms, from the binding crawling into my flesh. But there is nothing I can do. Her screams are grating at my ears, killing me with each passing second. Tears are falling down my face as the dirt sticks to me and the blood pours.
“Please!” I scream. No one is listening. They’re all cheering .Clapping. Happy. Ignorant. I can do nothing as I watch her. The woman that loved me. The woman that raised me. The woman that took me in when no one else would, despite the consequences, I watch her burn alive. Until eventually, her screams are nothing but a memory in the cool night air.