* * *
Kamaria moped silently as she crushed more indigo root. The tapping and grinding noises the pestle and mortar made were almost hypnotic. Although she controlled the it, she felt as if like the root, her concentration was ground asunder. Whereas the ground indigo root would eventually be made into a salve, she wondered what would be the ultimate fate of her concentration. The event she witnessed that morning stuck with her like a burr clinging to her dress as she gathered the ingredients to her salve. She should’ve been pleased that the aged apothecary had entrusted her to start her training on a salve requiring the rare indigo root, but visions of Jezebel with Talib paraded around her mind as if they were conquering heroes displaying their mettle upon a defeated city. She found her mind wandering so much that she had to check and recheck her duties.
In the dim light of the apothecary hut, Kamaria found it difficult to avoid thinking of them. Talib was a constant presence in her life since that fateful day. Jezebel had been one of Kamaria’s closest friends. Contrary to the present situation, they had been playmates, both under the watchful eye of Talib. They’d shared more than one adventure and had stretched truths to keep each other out of trouble.
But, as the moon traversed the night sky again and again, Jezebel had changed. Her interest in boys had grown, and the tales of her exploits had pushed Kamaria away. When false whispers of Kamaria’s own exploits had started getting back to her, Kamaria ended their friendship, convinced Jezebel was spreading the falsehoods. The girls had pursued different paths since then. Kamaria walked the archer’s path, and Jezebel clung to her boy toys.
Kamaria’s mortar of crushed indigo root slipped from her hand, clattering on the soft floor of the hut. In the morning silence, Kamaria feared some calamity had befallen her. The only calamity was her own inattention. She stooped to retrieve the mortar, examining it and its contents. She chastised herself; she had to maintain a tight schedule to meet the demands of the apothecary master. With her distracted, even the simplest tasks took much longer than they should have. If she didn’t pull herself together, she would be at it well into the night. Nighttime was her time, and she wouldn’t let the traitorous Jezebel take that from her as well.
As if distraction were a force she could touch, the village gong began droning, causing her teeth to hurt. The frantic clashing roused all against the silent morning. The gong itself was forged at the City of Dawn – it was believed it would last well past her own lifetime. Kamaria paused just long enough to look out an open window to see bandits moving silently among the huts of her tiny village. There could be no mistake as to their intentions, their weapons drawn.
Shaking her head, Kamaria set the mortar and pestle on the workbench and grabbed her bundle lying beneath the window. She freed her quiver and bow in a single motion and fired an arrow through the window at the closest bandit. Rather than use the noisy door, she leapt through the window and sighted her next target. Another bandit lie in wait just a few paces away. Her sudden appearance must’ve shocked him because he didn’t react before the next arrow struck home. The bandit howled loudly, but his howl turned to gurgling as he spat blood. Both arrows had found their targets – the unprotected throats of each bandit. She couldn’t help but hold back the bile as the last bandit spewed blood, raining the thick crimson on her dress and cloak. Kamaria smiled for the first time since she had begun the day. She was truly in her element and the archer in her took over and calmed her, despite being covered in bandit blood.
Disregarding the bandit corpses, Kamaria scaled the apothecary hut and straddled the wooden support beams. She peered in the distance toward a single pillar of smoke rising. She stared into the rising sun, squinting and shading her eyes with her bow hand. She thought she counted a hundred bandits creeping steadily toward the village. They moved with stealth, but she crinkled her nose as the morning breeze carried the stench of unwashed bodies and mead.
“Kamaria! What do you see?”
Kamaria stumbled at the sudden appearance of Harris, one of the village patrolmen. She regained her balance, disturbing the thatch bundles, and called down to Haris. “They’re advancing with the morning glare, but I think I count one hundred.” She sized up Harris from her perch and continued. “Can we defend the village?”
Harris looked at the fallen bandit scouts. “Perhaps they will be caught unaware with their scouts slain. I’ll inform the village elder right away!”
Harris rushed toward the elder’s hut, leaving Kamaria atop the roof. How did this happen? she thought as she calculated the events that had to transpire for a bandit force to even get to her village. Surely another village or town would’ve warned them… Unless…
Had other towns and villages along the Dawn Road already fallen? Kamaria shuddered not at the morning chill, but at the thought of such a tragedy. Her mind formed a callous against the thought of bandits marching unimpeded to the City of Dawn. Her apothecary training abandoned, Kamaria climbed down the wall of the hut and followed Harris to the Elder’s hut. Surely the elder knows what was going on…
As she closed in on the elder’s hut, Kamaria saw Harris leap from the doorway and head toward the bandit force. He looked over his shoulder at Kamaria and his expression forced her to pause. He appeared dejected, as if he was resigned to the fact that he may never see the village again. The gravity of the situation crushed her as she realized that she shared Harris’s fear.
Next: Superfluos Spear