I can't call it a novel. Not yet. A novel has a publisher. A novel is legitimate. But this--this is simply what I've been waking up 45 minutes earlier every morning to write. And rewrite. And rewrite again. So now I want some feedback. If you're up to it, leave it in the comments, send me an email, or shoot me a message on Facebook. But whatever you do, I hope you can at least enjoy it. :)
Rayanna could hear four or five of them closing in on her, barking out words in a dialect that was foreign and yet not at all strange to her ears. It was a dialect that had haunted her dreams for six years.
Every branch slapped, every root grabbed, and every bush tore. Better the forest than them, Rayanna thought of the damage her body received. Better the clawing, the grabbing, the hurting from the trees than from the Lima. Please, don’t let them hurt her again! She pleaded within herself. But she couldn’t turn around. She could only run.
Rayanna could hear the marauders afar off. And though she knew the woods far better than they, the Lima were a people skilled in moving without a noise. They could attack without warning and melt into the night like wolves. She shuddered at the thought. She knew what they could do.
The memories flooded her lungs with ice and froze her feet where she stood. Keep moving! You have to keep moving! But her feet—her aching and bare feet—would not respond. Fine. Then climb, but get out of here.
She looked around to get her bearings. Yes, this was familiar. This was her haunt when her mother could no longer see her and when the memories were too fresh. She had run straight to her sanctuary without a thought. Going to her favorite tree, she leapt, grabbed a branch, and set her feet against the trunk. Her right foot slipped painfully on the bark. Switching feet, she ascended gingerly, clumsily. Her right foot dangled below her as she continued upward. And when she settled, she could hear them approaching.
Yes, the night falls when God closes his eyes, but not to rest. He closed his eyes so that he would not have to witness what his children can do.
Fainga lay with his eyes closed and his hands behind his head, breathing in the sun. Since the age of sixteen, when he had begun participating in a raiding party as was the customary age for his people, he would spend more and more time in this field with his sister, Loria. They would talk about anything except for the raids, and yet she always seemed to know what had happened. Fainga did not know if she was proud of him for it, and he didn’t ask. He didn’t know if he was proud of it, either.
But Loria was nowhere to be found. Thinking about tonight’s raid, Fainga drew another deep breath. It was one of the few things that brought him peace. But whether the peace was from his thoughts of the raid or his meditation, he could not decide. Tonight would be the first raid since he lost Loria, and he itched to be clothed in the night. He yearned for vengeance. And he yearned for peace.
The sensation of cold metal against his skin broke his memories and his musings.
“Do not scream,” said the intruder.
Without bothering to open his eyes, Fainga said, “Good to see you, too, Chism. Now go away before I decide to kill you.”
“Big words for the idiot brother sunbathing without a lookout or a weapon,” Chism said with a grin on his face.
Before Chism could even react, Fainga had drawn a knife from somewhere behind his head and knocked the sword wide. Springing to his feet, Fainga parried Chism’s next stroke and, stepped in too close for Chism to effectively use his sword, punched him in the ribs. Before Chism’s sword could hit the ground, Fainga had deftly spun his brother around, kicked out the back of his brother’s knees, and held his knife to Chism’s throat. Chism knelt exactly in the place where Fainga lay only seconds before.
“Not bad,” Chism said rather casually for a man with a knife at his throat. “But you didn’t have to hit so hard.”
“Sorry. Got a lot on my mind,” Fainga said, replacing his knife in his shoulder sheath.
“So you’re going tonight,” Chism said.
“Fainga, it’s…it’s conjectures. It’s a theory. There’s not even proof of any Neroos party in the area for…for months! What do you think you’re going to accomplish by going with the marauders?”
Fainga shifted his weight. “It’s not much different from what I do with the raiding parties,” he lied.
Chism could only snort at his brother’s justification. Harassing supply lines and stealing food was one thing. But the marauders…they were not even a recognized group in the Lima society.
“Are you ready to get that pretty little dagger stained? Because that doesn’t wash off, Fainga.” Chism reminded him.
“Who’s going to make them pay, Chism?” Fainga shouted.
Chism laughed derisively. “You’ll die, Fainga. Or worse—you’ll wish you had died if you make it back. You’re not a bad fighter, and I’ll sure you’ll ruin a family or two. And then Loria will be avenged! Then Loria will rest in peace! Then you’ll have your peace!” Chism paused. “You’re a fool, my brother.”
Fainga started to speak then stopped. Pacing back and forth, he would begin to gesture, to argue, to defend, but not even he believed the things he would try to say. He turned slowly, looked at Chism, and said, “How can you have let her go so easily?”
It was not an accusation. It was a plea to make the hollowness go away. Chism’s heart, which had been so light only a few minutes before, weighed heavily in his chest for the sudden loss of his sister only a week before and the slower but just as sure loss of his brother standing in front of his.
“I can’t bring her back. And killing Neroos who had nothing to do with it will only bring you misery.” Bending over, Chism picked up his sword. Wanting to say more to stop his brother but not knowing what, he left as abruptly as he came.
Six years ago, Rayanna woke suddenly and quickly. The watcher’s horn was blowing. At eleven years old, Rayanna had only heard their outpost village’s horn during village meetings and while her father drilled with the other men in town in case of an attack. Their village was part of an effort to expand the Neroos territory—free land to all who signed up. Young and enterprising families, or families looking for a new start, could find their place here. In the mountains.
The city of Gidionhi had been destroyed in the war. But that was thirty years ago. The Lima and Neroos had signed a treaty. There was no danger by going back. A small contingent of soldiers was sent as a precautionary measure and to provide more bodies to populate the area. And so they tore down the structures and made place for their village.
But with the watcher’s horn sounding through the night, danger was on their doorstep.
“Aria!” Her father called to her mother. “It’s time. We must stick to the plan. I will find you when this is over.”
“No, Solay, please,” her mother pleaded. “Please don’t. I need you. Come, protect us!”
“I am protecting you. We will meet here again at dawn,” he said, gently touching her face. Then, speaking to his two eldest sons, he said, “There is no time. We must all go, quickly!” Armed with bows, arrows, and scimitars, the three stole out into the night.
Aria wanted desperately to sob, to call them back, to see the break of dawn. But even the stars hid their light tonight. Aria wondered what the total darkness would portend.
“Rayanna, help me with Brego and Karrh,” her mother said as she prepared Rayanna’s young twin brothers. “We must move now.”
Hushed by the events she could not understand, Rayanna picked up four-year-old Karrh. Even at eleven years old, Rayanna was beginning to have difficulty carrying her young brother’s already-strong body on her slight frame. But tonight was no night for complaining.
The houses were afforded a small garden with an additional yard for pigs, goats, chickens, or other useful animals. But the farms were located on the fringes, circling the entire village and some of the still-standing rubble from the old city. The watcher, who stood on a tower erected in the center of the city, had a clear view of everything for half mile in either direction.
Rayanna followed her mother out the back of their home. Around the garden, careful not to leave footprints in the soft earth. Pause. Check. Clear. Move. Dash to the next home. Find the half-destroyed house in Old City. Hide in it until dawn.
The south side of Gidionhi was ablaze with torches, screams, and blood. Aria sat against the wall, clutching Brego as she tried to hide her fear from the children.
Then the sound of footsteps. No. The measured sound of concerted running. Marching. A second group of Lima marauders had come to flank the tiny village. Aria could just see the top of the watch tower as she looked to see when the watcher would sound the horn again, alerting the town of the secondary attack. But no warning came. Aria could see the watcher slumped over on his platform and imagined the arrows protruding from his body. There would be no warning. Even with the soldiers stationed in Gidionhi, the small village militia—her husband and the untrained group of farmers—would be trapped between the two Lima groups and massacred.
Aria’s breathing became heavy, and her panic grew more evident with every passing second. As soon as the marching had passed by, Aria turned and said, “Watch your brothers. I am going to look for your father.”
“What are you going to do for them?” the naïve and eleven-year-old Rayanna asked.
“There are injured men, and they need bandages. Stay here. I will be back.”
“But papa is coming back! He will come to protect us. What if you miss him?” Rayanna looked past her mother at the blazing buildings, soaking in the image and the sounds of screams with childhood fascination. She knew even then that the memory was burning itself into her mind.
“I will find him. Be still.” And with that, she left.
“Rayanna, what do we do?” Karrh asked.
“We wait,” she said breathlessly. “Papa will be here. We wait.”
“I am so tired,” he said.
“Sleep here. You are safe.”
Turning her attention to her mother, the young Rayanna watched as her mother dodged from house to house, moving closer to the fighting. As she came to the corner of the street, four marauders turned the corner and ran right into her.
“A lonely place for a girl like you,” Rayanna heard one say as he leered at Aria. The Lima dialect was foreign and their manner crude as they formed a semi-circle, blocking her exits. Aria turned to run. And that is when it started.
“No! No! No, stop it! Stop it! Why are you here? What do you want?” Why are you doing this?” Her mother screamed.
“The better question,” one of the four said to Aria, “is, ‘Why not?’” And the others laughed.
“Papa is coming. Papa is coming. Papa is coming. Papa…” Rayanna whispered to herself. But he still had not. And as her mother’s anguished screams mixed with the horror of the battle in behind her, Rayanna knew that he never would.
Six years later, high up in a tree, Rayanna woke with yelp. The gathering men below her went silent.