I could remember the day the enemy snatched me from my mother’s tent, the day they attacked. They came at midnight, lurking like evil foxes, with clean, shining swords that could kill.
The swords did not preserve their luster that night. Oh, they came, the enemy, they came, sneaking into the tents and setting fire. I can still remember, so clearly, how they carried torches and pitch and tossed the burning wood onto the tents, how malevolent grins spread across their dirty faces.
I was still a child, seven. Just before the attack, I had awoken, from a bad dream. My twin sister slept on the pallet next to me, still slumbering deeply. Our mother lay next to my sister, her pale, unblemished face glowing in the darkness.
It would be blemished soon, by blood and fire.
I had tottered out in a night clothes, feeling the Storm tug at my long hair. All around me, darkness and silence reigned. The gloomy shapes of tents rose up in the air, dogs and horses were leashed to poles.
I had laughed, looking up at the twinkling stars, winking down at me, like an excuse for what happened next.
Suddenly, a tongue of fire leapt up on the tent before me, catching and growing into a triangle of dancing heat. The entire row of tents flamed up. I had watched, still and mesmerized by the beauty of the flame.
That terrible, killing beauty of fire.
Shouts came next. Those who could escape the burning stumbled out, those who could not died. I recall all the screams and yells, men shouting to their wives, wives shrieking for their children.
My mother burst out, hair wild, eyes flashing. In one hand she held my sister, in the other she clutched a silvery pendant. In the shadows and brightness, I could not see what it was. I would, later.
“Run! Run, Mirith!” she screamed, as men exploded from the trees around us, swords in their hands, blood curdling war cries issuing from their lips. “Run!”
I ran. Or tried to. The men rushed, throwing torches onto the burning tents, evil glints in their piggy eyes. Whatever people tried to save themselves were run through with javelins, spears, even their own knives.
I was frozen, unable to pull away from the movement. A man beheaded a young woman and tossed her baby back into the licking, hungry fire. He glared straight at me, his eyes glittering beneath a face mask.
My mother screamed again.
The bad man turned and grinned, so slowly, like a demon. He raised his sword, and slashed downwards, right at my mother.
I could still see it, in my mind’s eye, right now, if I try to.
A red blossom bloomed just below her neck, growing over her gown. She shrieked, sinking to her knees, her pitiful voice becoming a low moan. My twin sister, who was wailing, rolled from her grip. Her other hand still clutched the pendant tightly.
I stared into her eyes, still frozen dumb. Her blue eyes. Those blue eyes, that had once laughed and lived, was now no more. Nothing.
Nothing more than a shell, an outer covering to what she had once been.
I had begun to wail, crying in the dirt, as battle and blood and fire raged around me. The bad men slaughtered, dragging people out and beheading them, like I had seen my father, the leader, do to some other evil prisoners.
It was horrible. The bad men killed everyone with huge swords. They stamped on the bodies, shouting with mirth and glee, looting the tents of valuables.
I cried and cried, until my gaze strayed back to my mother, whose arms were extended out, towards me.
In a fist, she held the pendant. Her fingers were open, her eyes staring blankly into mine.
As if she were offering something.
I had accepted in my mind, then, that she was dead, and that she had been offering the pendant to me.
No, not offering.
So I had taken it. I had slipped it into the small pocket my mother had sewed into my night clothes only days before, when she was alive.
Then, I looked around for my twin sister, terror rooted in the back of my mind. Where was she? What had happened to her? Was she dead, dead, dead, like my mother?
I sat back and cried and wailed, my fists beating the ground. There were only bad men around me, too busy looting jewels and cloths out of the dead people’s tents they couldn’t notice me. They were dumping their stolen treasure into a huge bag.
That was when I saw him.
He was the only one left, the only one surviving, the only one. My father. He swung his sword, like a true man, in great arcs, battling another man, a man shorter than he, with a robust build.
Silently, I had prayed that he would win, that he would cut down that other man.
But I was wrong.
My father fought gloriously, for his lost people that had perished that night. His sword flashed, the blade shining. It wove an intricate pattern around the shorter man, humming.
Oh, I rejoiced that second. I rejoiced when I saw the bad man tilting back, overcome by my father’s might. I thought the fight was won, it was all done, my father would live.
I cheered, yelling in support my father.
His eyes darted around to find the source of that sound, rooting on me. I was grinning, grinning, smiling, when he saw me.
I witnessed it all. My father’s eyes widened in shock when he recognized my joyful face, his lips parted, as if to say something.
At that moment, the man he was fighting leapt forward with a triumphant cry, his sword thrusting forward, straight into my father’s chest.
It was over…so quickly. A wild cry ripped from his lips as he fell backwards in a heavy arc, and thumped to the ground, his dead eyes still gazing at me.
I had screamed, all of it too much. Both my parents’ eyes, gazing, unseeing, into my own.
The killer man pulled his sword out with a grunt, looking around for the source of my father’s stare. His face turned towards me.
I began to cry softly. All around me, the men are dumping their goods into the big bag. But this man, who is wiping his sword on my father’s bloody tunic, is staring at me, a strange frown lighted up in the fire.
I clutch the pendant. The man starts towards me, sheathing his sword as he strode forwards. I remember, I remember.
He had picked me up, cradling me in his arms, whispering into my ear.
“Is that your father?” he asks, so softly.
I only hiss and scream, kicking at his stomach. He dropped me, angry. Then, he had swiftly grabbed a bag, smaller than the loot bag, and dumped me in.
That was all I could remember.
Now, I stand on the rocky ledge, my hair tugged by the Storm. Moss surrounds me, rowan trees ring my hiding place. I place my hand on a tree, feeling the firm solidity beneath my long fingers.
I smile bitterly. Seven years past had it all happened.
Seven years ago, my parents were murdered, seven years ago my father’s people were slain. Seven years ago, I was borne to this freakish place, the camp of my father’s enemies.
I creep forward to look down, over the ledge. The moss is soft against my hard fingers.
I peer down.
Below, there is a large grassy clearing. Oaks encircle the swaying grass, their branches sweeping the ground. Flowers dot the gentle place, their petals beautiful to me.
But there is always an ugly side of everything.
Men spar and shout on the clearing, their swords ringing. Archers shoot arrow after arrow into a red and white board, attempting to hit bulls-eye. They yell when they do, and the swordsmen also roar when they defeat an opponent.
They are all my father’s enemies. I can see a tall man, with rich, brown hair and emerald eyes. He moves gracefully, lithe as a cat. His sword hums and flashes, beating down every man he challenges.
That is him. I dislike him, a bit.
His name is Zaithin. He is the one who killed my father, he is the one who stole me away to this tough place. When he had brought me here, he was all kindness and sympathy. I was seven then.
At first, Zaithin had promised to play with me whenever I needed company. And he did, crawling around in the dirt and pretending to eat my mud pies. I had forgotten what he had down when I was small, but I could always recall how he had killed my father.
So most of me was neutral feeling about him, as well as the other men, a small, black root of dislike is there. For him, Zaithin. But most of the time, he is my best friend.
I creep back, careful not to fall over and get laughed at. The Storm unfurls my long hair, pushing at the pendant around my neck. I cup it in my hands, looking down.
It hangs on a silver chain. The pendant is shaped like a elongated raindrop, elegant and thick at the bottom. To all eyes, it is a simple trinket, but to mine, it is the most precious thing I have ever owned.
It is my mother’s gift to me. She called it the Zephyr. She used to say it held all the power of the Storm and storms. And I believed her.
“You! Mirith! Come here!”
I hear a shout and my name. Disgruntled, I crawl back to the edge and look down, where Zaithin is looking up, straight at me.
A laugh is on his face. I glare at him and his friends, who are standing beside him.
“What?” I demand. “What do you want now?”
Zaithin laughed, his handsome face bright. I curse him again.
“Bring a pitcher of water to me,” he ordered. His green eyes laugh cheerfully up into my face.
I stand up, brushing off my plain, white dress. Turning, I dash reluctantly through the rowans, the branches ripping into my hair. That doesn’t matter. Zaithin wanted water, so I should get it, since he was the one who bought my clothes and other needed things from nearby villages.
Water was only a small payment in return, not much.
My bare feet thump against the mossy earth. It feels moist and wet in the morning, and I love it. Ferns sprout against the base of the trees, and the branches filter the warm sunlight. Pools of clear water are all around me.
The camp draws into view. I am sorely reminded of my old home. The two are very similar, though I always tell myself that mine was better and warmer, more friendly.
Here, tents are lined up in strict rows, and horses and dogs are picketed to the front on extremely tight ropes. Men cook breakfast, since there are no women except for me. Some sit and attempt to sew their worn clothes.
I am the only one who does those mundane chores. I am but a girl, but there are heaps of work waiting for me, everyday. I set the tables, I tend the fires, I sew the clothes, I cook some of the meals. All of it. I don’t have nearly enough hands to do all.
Across the camp, I see Zaithin’s tent. It is larger than the others, because I live there, also. Everything I own is in that filthy place.
I dash to a low, wooden table and grab a pitcher of water set out for breakfast. A man snatches at my wrist, and the water slops out.
I whirl and glare into his face. “What do you want?” I snapped, pulling away.
He holds me fast, a frown on his ugly looks. “Why are you stealing water?” he demands, voice loud.
“Zaithin wants it,” I grit my teeth and tug, peeping into the pitcher. Half the water is gone. “Let me go!”
The man slowly releases his grip. I draw my wrist back, watching the purple-black bruise where he had grabbed me.
“Don’t take things without permission,” the man growled warningly. “You pig. Be thankful that Zaithin let you live.”
I turn and run away, swift as a deer. Within seconds, the camp is gone and I am darting through the forest. Years of living in this rough life has erased all the lady-like manners my mother has schooled me; here, I run free as any beast.
I take a different route, one that will lead me to the training grounds, the clearing. I dance over a deep creak, hopping over the slippery stones, balance perfect. Along the way, I lean over and scoop up the water into the pitcher, hoping that Zaithin wouldn’t notice the water striders in his drink.
I look down. My reflection is clear on the surface of the freezing liquid, as if the creek was a mirror. My skin is a pale peach, smooth. I have large, twilight blue eyes with long lashes, and flowing, raven black hair. My lips is a light pink.
My hair is tangled with burs and brambles and leaves. Dirt cakes my face, results from toiling in the dust for Zaithin. I wonder when he will release me to do my own free will.
From when I was seven, I have lived. Here. Zaithin had offered his tent to me the night I was captured, thinking it was a kind gesture. I had accepted then, since it was better than sleeping next to the wolves.
When he had killed my father, Zaithin was sixteen. Now, he is twenty-three, while I am fourteen. A nine year difference.
But that doesn’t matter. I cross the creek, the heavy pitcher in one hand, the other thrown out to keep balance. The instant I step to the other side, I push off into a heavy run, the deliciously squishy mud squelching between my toes.
I dash through the brown and black rushes, my feet to tough to be prickled by the pointy tips of the grass. A brown toad hops out of my way, croaking indignantly as I rush past.
The clearing draws into view. Zaithin is waiting for me, hands on his hips, eyebrows raised expectantly.
I slow down and hand the pitcher over. Zaithin takes it without a word and gulps it all down.
Secretly, I hope he drinks down one of the water striders I had seen enter the pitcher. Seconds later, I berate myself for being naughty.
“Thank you,” he says, handing back my pitcher. His eyes rove over me, resting on the Zephyr. “You still have that pendant?”
My hands cup protectively over the Zephyr. I take a step back when he reaches out towards my mother’s gift.
He frowns, his sun-tanned face creased. Puzzlement rests on his looks as he regards me with slight anger. He had always been quick-tempered.
“Give it to me,” he demands, impatient. “Now.”
“No,” I whisper. “I will not.”
Zaithin scowls darkly. This is the first time I have disobeyed him openly. I stare at him blankly, feeling a worm of fear wriggle inside me. My fist tightens on the Zephyr.
Suddenly, I feel a warm glow around my fingers. The Storm gusts suddenly, ripping at everything. The sun is covered up by dark storm clouds, and the sky is blotted out by blackness. Dirt and plants are blown up, silt flies. Even the tall, stubborn trees sway.
The warriors all shout and scurry about, terrified by the sudden change of matter. I laugh, feeling my dress billow out behind me, feeling my wide sleeves flowing.
Before me, Zaithin stares, oblivious to the howling Storm. He stares at me, indescribable fear planted in his emerald eyes.
“Magic,” he hisses, pouncing
His hand jerks the Zephyr away from me. I cry out the moment the pendant disappears into his pocket. The back of my neck stings where the chain broke under his power.
The instant the pendant left my touch, the clouds cleared, and the Storm halted. Everything bad was gone. The birds began to sing again, their joyful songs trilling. Everything was utterly normal.
Zaithin takes a step back, his hand tightening around my Zephyr. I start forward, groping for my pendant, feeling my eyes widen.
“No,” he says, voice hoarse, halting me. “It is dangerous. You‘ll hurt yourself.” I am startled to understand that Zaithin is worried about me.
He takes several more steps back. I begin to feel tears leaking into my eyes.
“No!” I cry out when Zaithin begins to turn and stride away. “Don’t take it! My mother gave it to me.”
Zaithin stops, an uneasy look on his face. I feel a rush of hope.
He slips the pendant into his pocket, and all my eagerness is crushed beneath that simple gesture. My eyes search his face, feeling hatred rising up.
To my alarm, I see sympathy and fear in his emerald eyes. I hiss.
“I am sorry, friend,” Zaithin says quietly. “I cannot give it back to you.”
I stand, dumb, as he walks away, his steps resolute and stubborn.
I watched her climb up to her ledge. I frown, feeling the shape of Mirith’s pendant in my hand. It is a dangerous thing. I had seen it all: how she had touched it, and a sudden storm had begun to brew.
I was afraid, for the first time in years, ever since I had killed the leader of the Storm. He had been losing that night of the slaughter, until the leader had glanced at his little daughter, Mirith. That was when I slew the leader.
Even now I feel ashamed of taking advantage of an honorable man.
I watch as Mirith reached the ledge and hauled herself up, curling into a tight ball, her head buried in her arms. Sighing, I pocket the pendant. I feel truly sorry for her, even though she had been the princess of the Storm, the sworn enemy of his own people, the Rains.
She was probably moping in her favorite spot, I figured. Sulking.
Inside, I worry. What would she do to me later, after supper? Would she not notice me, like always, or stare at him with those large, sad eyes?
I gaze at my friends, who were still practicing consistently. He was the strongest Rain warrior, the champion. It was expected that he, Zaithin, who will triumph in the upcoming battle against the other people of the Storm. The night Mirith, the girl, was captured, was only a small victory over a small section of the enemy.
The warrior stared hard at his captive. She was still curled up, tight, her black hair tumbled down her back. Zaithin felt a twinge.
She was very slim, he noticed; perhaps she was too worn out and tired.
I bury my head in my arms, breeding more anger without knowing it. I feel Zaithin staring at me, so I curse him again.
Before me, I sense an animal hopping. Hopping? A bird, maybe.
I slowly peek out.
Before me is a half dead hawk. It was bleeding badly from a cut underneath its broken wing. Its brown and grey plumage was dirty and disheveled.
I creep forward, inching along the soft earth. The hawk’s head swiveled towards me, a maniacal glint in its eye. It shrieked in rage, stabbing with its hard beak.
I pull back as the beak sinks into my hand. Jerking away, I fight down the burning pain, teeth clenched.
The hawk lays back, tired out by the single attack.
“You’re very mean,” I whisper, when the pain subsided to a dull throb.
The hawk cheeped in answer, eyes filming over.
Fingers outstretched, I slowly inch forward again. The moment my fingers brush against the stiff feathers, the hawk convulses and shrieks in anger. I draw back quickly, glancing around to see if anyone was watching.
No one, except for Zaithin, who was watching from below, the same frown on his face. I glower at him to show that I was still mad that he had taken the Zephyr away from me. Normally, he was all smiles and friendliness, today, it was different.
I sigh. Zaithin was probably just fustrated with something. Was the training bad? I watch the hawk try to stand in vain.
“Poor thing,” I murmur.
I think of my mother, how she had died helpless. So I sing an old Tribe song that she had once sung to me, a slow, haunting melody.
My voice lilts smoothly, gliding up the notes like a cascade. The hawk quiets, eyes alert. It tips its head towards my voice, as if it were listening.
I smile at my success in gentling the feral bird.
Slowly, with painstaking care, I cup my hands around the bird, feeling it tense immediately. I begin to sing again. The hawk becomes limp and still. Suddenly, I am afraid that it has already gone.
Once the hawk was in my hands securely, I dash for the camp, still singing loudly. I could barely see where I was going as I flew threw the trees.
The tents draw into view, and I charge through, almost upsetting a man that was dragging a cauldron of bubbling pitch. He glares at my back as I waltz through the lines of tents, finding Zaithin’s.
I push back the tent flap, my voice beginning to itch from singing. I still sing, the haunting chords still alive and well.
Inside, I place the hawk on a soft cushion. Immediately I begin to rummage through a healing pouch, riffling through the many herbs. Finally, I find two roots I had been looking for. I pop them in my mouth and began to chew diligently.
It was difficult to sing while chewing.
But I managed it. I spat out the sticky paste and pushed it into the bleeding cut. Instantly, the bleeding stopped. I grabbed a thick roll of bandages and cut a long length, binding it around the hawk, beneath the wing and over the neck, so that the cut was covered up completely.
I set the hawk in an empty corner, covering it with a wool blanket. I stop singing. The instant I halted, the hawk’s eyes fly open. It shrieks in terror, feebly wriggling to escape the tight cell of bandages and blankets.
“Hush,” I mutter. “One day, when you fly free, you will thank me for saving your life.”
The tent flap flutters open, and in climbs Zaithin. He grins at me, emerald eyes unusually bright. I ignore him stonily, remembering where my Zephyr was.
“Still angry?” he prods, his armor clanking.
I say nothing and watch him rummage through a leather bag. I’m used to not speaking; it’s much better than saying something and ruining matters.
Zaithin sits back, finally noticing the hawk. He cries out, scrambling back a few feet, horrified.
I laugh at his fright.
“What is that thing doing in here!” he thundered, face clouded up.
I pat the hawk gently, careful to avoid the wound. It was asleep.
“It’s my new friend,” I reply cheerfully. “I found him on my ledge. Isn’t me wonderful?” and I enjoy another yelp from Zaithin.
“You’re new friend?” he gasps, crawling away from the hawk as far as the tight confines of the tent would allow. “That’s impossible. Throw it out. You have plenty of friends.”
“No. I will not,” I say firmly, moving in front of the hawk protectively. “It’s hurt. And I don’t much friends, really.”
“What about me?” the hurt in his voice was evident.
“You?” I think it over for a long moment. “I guess you’re just a regular person to me.” She smiled reluctantly at Zaithin.
The warrior ran his fingers through his hair. “Well here’s something for you to digest. There’s a planned battle coming, and I want my hauberk cleaned. Got it?”
I sighed. I’ve seen many battles before. This was no different. But a hauberk was difficult to clean.
“All right,” I say, shifting about.
Zaithin smiles gratefully, patting my hand. “Thank you,” he says. “You’re a friend to me, Mirith.” I look at him through my eyelashes. With a shock I see the Zephyr against his tunic. He’s wearing it!
Instantly I resolve…one day I shall take it back away from it.
I stride over to the training pitch, whistling a merry tune. My sword slaps against my thigh as I walk.
“Zaithin! Zaithin!” someone calls my name. I look over my shoulder and see that it’s my best friend, Hern.
He laughs and runs over. Hern is a rather short person, with sandy brown hair and black eyes. His build is stocky and stout, matching his stubborn personality. But overall, he is rather attractive to women, I suppose. But I am not sure, since there is no woman in the camp. Mirith is possibly a girl.
I frown to think that one day Mirith might be attracted to Hern.
“Good morning, Hern,” I say politely, pushing the thought about my captive away. Dimly, I think. After all, it’s been seven years already, and she’s probably entitled to me. Perhaps. “Are you planning to train today?”
Hern winks at me and punches my shoulder playfully. “Of course! I’m going to beat you someday at swords!” he laughed and raced ahead towards the pitch. I chase him, with just as much zest. Hern is the best swordsman…after me, of course.
We leap into the pitch.
It is about twenty feet deep with ladders around the sides. Full of warriors fighting, it is around fifty feet in diameter all around, a good circle. Practice weapons are stashed around the sides for the amateurs who still don’t have their own swords.
Hern and I take a place near the side of the dirt wall. Both of us draw our blades, ready to spar. His sword is slightly shorter than mine--but oh, well.
He touches my blade lightly, then lunges forward with lightning speed, his sword chopping towards my head.
I block, the ring of metal whistling in my ears. Sparks spray out into the morning sky as I jump away, slashing at Hern. He feints to the side and stabs forward, at my belly.
There is no room, no time, to pull back and dodge. Silently, I despair. My reputation as best warrior is fading!
Quickly, I take a step back. His sword grazes through my chain link tunic, scratching some skin. Hern lunges again, and I block, wondering.
Has he not seen it? He would’ve won if he had.
Quietly, I keep the news to myself. I will win. I shove forward, twist down on his sword, and flick my wrist, sending it flying.
Hern, a look of grimace on his face, bows. “You win,” he says. “I guess I’m still too weak.”
“No, you aren’t,” a clear, high voice calls out. I whirl around.
Mirith is standing right behind me. Her brown white tunic, too big for her frame, settles around her body. It looks like she had just jumped from the side and not used the ladders.
“You aren’t,” she repeated, striding to Hern. Big strides. “Zaithin cheated.” She turns and glares at me, those brilliant, large, midnight blue eyes. “He got cut by your sword, but he doesn’t want to admit it. Am I not right?” her eyes narrow to sparkling slits.
I stand there, gawking at her. Hern looks at me carefully, face stern. “Is this true, friend?” he asks. “Does your servant speak true?”
Mirith hisses and slams her fist into the side of Hern’s face. She is so swift I can barely see her arm as she pulls him back and kicks him in the ribs. Hern groans and stands up once she’s done.
“I’m not a slave!” she growls, casting murderous glances at both of us. “Shut your mouth,” she tells me when I open my lips to speak.
Her manner angers me.
“Is that the way you speak to your master?” I thunder, grabbing the front of her tunic. Her eyes leap to my face in terror, than down at the pendant bouncing on my armor. “Speak!” I shake her, somewhat weakly. My heart isn’t in it much.
Mirith twists away. She’s as slippery as an eel. Her eyes glitter angrily at her pendant. “You’re a cheater!” she cries. “You’re not my master! You’re a dirty, tricking, liar!” she screamed the last word so loud that the entire training pitch stilled. A sea of heads turned to look at me.
I want to shrink.
Mirith turns and grabs a ladder. In a wink, she is gone.
I cannot believe that Zaithin cheated in the pitch today. He’s a nice, generous, honest young man, I know that. But Hern was his best friend. How did that happen?
I had been watching at the edge of the pitch, my eyes wandering when I saw it happen. Hern’s sword, slicing through a bit of his armor. I was about to dismiss it as a close shave when I saw a small sprinkle of blood tickle through the air. What?
How could I have seen that? Impossible. I was twenty feet high…
Now, I am sitting in the tent, trying to mend the broken chain link shirt that is so hard to fix. Zaithin sits stonily in front of me.
“You disgraced me before all the warriors!” he growled.
“You deserve it,” I say quietly. “Don’t shout at me.” I hate it when he does.
Zaithin grumbles and turns away. Inside, I wish that there are more girls and women in the camp to play with. There are more young boys training, more and more, with proud warriors to claim them as sons. But if they could father so many sons, where were the women?
“How come I’m the only female in this hellish place?” I hiss, a bit too loudly. Zaithin’s head turns slightly.
“Because we can’t afford to lose our women in any Storm attacks,” he snarls at me. “Get out.”
I drop the tunic and run out.
The next day, we set out to capture another clan, the Eagle. The same routine--set fire to the tents, leap in, kill everyone on sight, including women and children, loot the tents, ride away. Some men took several captive girls, ones like Mirith, and carried them off to their beds, laughing from too much Eagle wine.
I watch, sickened. What ways. I can hear the girls scream and cry out in the tents.
The next day, the Rain leader, Herman, Hern’s father, called out to our allies, the Panther, to come and live with us for multiple strength and defense. They agreed, and sent a pigeon saying that they would arrive three days later. Bringing their women and children! What strange ways.
The next three days I keep the news to myself, away from Mirith. She knows that the Panther are coming--Herman made a public announcement--but she doesn’t know about the women and children. I plan it to be a surprise for her.
When the time comes for the Panther to arrive, Mirith is almost dead with exhaustion. All the men have ordered her to clean every single particle of their clothing, to sweep their tents, to scrub the mess tables and halls, to wipe out the soup cauldrons and their weapons. I tried to help her as much as I can.
They come, finally. All the warriors are standing in stiff, tight formation, all their battle finery on. Herman stands before us, wearing a great cloak of tiger pelt and a plumed helmet. I and Hern stand beside him. Hern still isn’t talking to me.
Mirith crouches beside me, like a good, little captive. Herman has made me a leather leash and a collar to attach me to her, but I thought if I did, she would rip out my eyes.
The Panther are coming. A horn blares out to signal their ascent.
They are coming!
The Panther comes in many, white wagons. Gleaming horses of every color pulls them, their flanks heaving. These horses are small and stout. I notice that some have symbols tattooed on their sides.
Their men ride the same kind of horse. They look a bit ridiculous on such small mounts, but their axes are huge and cruel. And behind them are…
Women! Their women! And children and small, little girls.
My heart exults. I shall not be the only one! I will have many friends, and companions. And I won’t have to toil so with others to share the burden.
Next to Zaithin, Herman leans over and whispers. “Don’t laugh at their horses. They are powerful and swift, and can kill a man in a minute. Be courteous.” He straightens up and calls to the Panthers, who have come to a complete halt. “Welcome, friends! Make yourself home in my humble abode! Feast!”
The stiff formation, only for show, immediately scatters. Men drag out pots and begin to build fires, laughing. The Panther hops off their horses and start unloading things off their wagons. Zaithin and some other warriors run to help them. I do, too.
I run to a particularly large wagon. A tall, stately woman with a pointed nose stares straight ahead. Behind her a beautiful girl with shining, golden curls and bluebell eyes also stares ahead.