[1000 words – #3WW | Word-a-Week | The Writing Reader]Jahan followed the cobblestone road out of the City of Dawn, thinking of her future. She would matriculate soon, and she could study philosophy, but the councilman’s conversation with her brother hung in the air.
“Hello!” someone shouted from the Gates of Dawn. “Where are you going this early, Jahan?”
“Just gathering herbs,” Jahan lied to the guard.
The guard squinted. “Are you armed?”
Jahan grabbed her golden sword from its sheath and waved it over her head. The long curved blade glinted in the torches lining the Dawn Road.
The guard waved his hand, and the gate creaked open, allowing Jahan to pass through. “Stay within sight of the wall in case you need help,” he called out. “Good luck, Jahan!”
Jahan nodded and walked down the Dawn Road, moving as quickly as she could without attracting attention from the gregarious guards. The stale air she’d breathed in the city cleared, and the addictive cool air of an early spring morning greeted her. It was welcome, she felt refreshed and ready for whatever the Dawn Road brought her.
* * *
That morning Jahan followed the Dawn Road through the Dawn Consortium. As her city faded into the distance, she followed the river instead of the road. She knew the ever-increasing cliffs to the sides of the river gave traveling bandits an advantage over her, but she suspected they, like the Denizens of Dawn would sleep most of the morning.
The river proper allowed her to avoid anyone traveling the road. She saw fish swim defiantly upstream against the current. They made the smallest of progress and Jahan knew her breakfast was only a splash away. There was a wide flat area ahead, where the river thinned and she knew she could build a fire from driftwood. Her mouth watered at the promise of breakfast.
As she got closer to the clearing, she saw something lying at the edge of the Dawn River. She withdrew her sword and gripped it with both hands, the blade curving downward. Her brother had taught her well, and his patient instruction flowed into her as she cautiously advanced on what appeared to be a body half in the shallow water.
She used the end of her sword to poke the filthy body, and when a feminine moan released, she rushed to the girl and rolled her out of the water.
The girl sucked in a breath slowly, and tried to reach up to wipe away sand and other river debris, but her arms seemed to disobey. Jahan reached and wiped her face, arranging the wet hair clinging to her cheeks and neck to get a better look at the girl. The girl smiled, and winced in pain.
* * *
Asis forced her eyes open, and after being temporarily blinded by morning light, a face came into focus of a woman with short-cropped hair. She turned her head to take in her surroundings and saw a golden sword at the woman’s knees. The sand of the river clung to the blade, and Asis worried that it would tarnish.
“My name’s Jahan. Don’t try to move, let me examine you,” the woman spoke softly. After feeling hands search her body, Jahan spoke again. “You have several broken bones, but I don’t think you’re in mortal peril.” Jahan looked beyond Asis. “Your companion didn’t fare as well as you.”
Jahan shifted Asis’s body so she could see a boy lying face down in the river. Even if the stones along water’s edge weren’t stained red, it was obvious to Asis that Nemr was dead. He must’ve jumped after her in a desperate attempt to die with her. He died alone, thought Asis as Jahan forced a water skin to her lips. Asis drank greedily.
“Was he your friend?” asked Jahan after Asis paused to breathe.
Asis sucked in as much air as possible and forced out a single word: “Once…”
Jahan dragged Asis to the cliff base and leaned her against the rock. She returned to the clearing and stooped over Nemr’s body. In an outstretched hand, Nemr still clutched Asis’s dagger. Jahan freed the dagger from his waterlogged fingers and walked a few paces and retrieved the matching dagger.
“Your arm is broken, I’m afraid.” Jahan placed one of the daggers in Asis’s hand not bent at an unnatural angle. “I’m sorry.”
Asis screamed in pain as Jahan placed the remaining dagger, pointing down Asis’s wrist and wrapped a piece of Nemr’s tunic around the dagger and Asis’s arm. The pain was unbearable, but Asis knew it was necessary to minimize permanent damage to her arm. Damn that Nemr, she thought as the edges of her vision darkened.
When Jahan wrapped Asis’s torso, Asis could feel the grinding of several broken ribs. The pain was unbearable and Asis lost consciousness.
* * *
Jahan wrapped more strips of the boy’s tunic over a gash in the injured girl’s head. Blood, sticky and mixed with sand caked her head, neck and shoulder. Jahan did her best to clean in with the flowing water of the Dawn River, but each time she wiped away the blood, a new trickle took its place. Her fingers probed the wound and she determined it wasn’t deep. The head seemed to bleed more than any other part of the body. She dug into the riverbed and applied mud on the wound. Sword fighting wasn’t the only thing her brother had taught her.
Jahan slapped the girl’s cheek to wake her. “What’s your name, girl?”
The girl opened her eyes again and whispered her name. Jahan couldn’t hear, so she leaned closer. “Asis,” the girl whispered, rasping breath hot on Jahan’s ear.
“Well, Asis, you’re going to live, but I can’t carry you out of the river.”
Jahan stood and looked up to the cliff edge. “I’m going to make my way up to the Dawn Road and find someone to help.” She looked down at Asis. “I can see no other way. Can you wield your dagger?”
Asis made a half-hearted lunge and winced in pain. Jahan nodded, and started the climb up to the Dawn Road.
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