[1000 words – Word-A-Week]“Kamaria?”
Kamaria blinked several times and looked around. She wiped the tears still clouding her eyes, and focused on the voice.
“Kamaria, what’s the matter?” Bree asked.
Kamaria looked over her shoulder, and back to Bree. She had returned to the children in a stupor of grief. She responded to Bree before her mute sorrow worried the child more. “We can’t get out that way,” she declared. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find any food.” She would never return to that cave, even after the bodies had subsumed to adipocere.
Bree beamed. “We captured some bats.” She held up a rope, and seven furry bats, their heads in the loops. Kamaria noticed Bree’s blood-stained hands, and nodded in acknowledgement of Bree’s accomplishment. She wouldn’t discount Bree’s skills like the rest of the village had with Kamaria.
“Excellent,” replied Kamaria, “I’ll get us some wood.” Kamaria gathered a length of woven rope, and examined it before coiling it once she had a piece five times the height of a man. She affixed one end of the rope to one of her arrows, and sighted a tree root poking out of the cave ceiling.
Bree and the rest of the children watched Kamaria make attempt after attempt. Her aim was true, but maneuvering the rope to catch on the root, and not fall back down, was not something she had ever thought to practice. Twice the arrow ricocheted off the tree root, and up through the holes that provided light, air, and water to their subterranean cave. One time, she pulled down the rope and scowled at the bent arrow still attached.
“You can do it, Kamaria.” Bree handed Kamaria her last arrow when she dropped it when the nock slipped off the bowstring.
Kamaria smiled, accepted the proffered arrow, and launched it toward their salvation.
* * *
“Well, Well. A pretty young girl alone, and away from the sentries of the Dawn Road.”
Jahan opened her eyes, and looked toward the sound of the voice. Dirty features came into focus, and Jahan winced at the foul breath from the disheveled boy who leaned over her, one of his hands balancing his scrawny weight against the trunk Jahan was resting under.
“Don’t worry,” the boy said, when Jahan winced, “I’ll treat you properly. Right, boys?” The boy turned to face his crew and ham up his position.
Jahan shrugged, unsheathed her sword, and struck the stinky boy’s knee with the spine of her golden weapon. The crack was audible, and as the boy dropped, she heard gasps come from his crew. Tears flowed from the boy as he rolled around on the ground clutching his knee. The rest of the boys watched silently as Jahan pushed herself to her feet and twisted her sword, displaying her prowess. She reached overhead with both hands and cut down a branch with a single thrust. The branch dropped and landed on the boy’s stomach, and he let out a gasp between sobs.
“Don’t just stand there,” she yelled to the rest of the boys, and pointed with her sword, “use that branch as a splint.” The boys took a step back, but they pushed a small boy of only six summers forward, and he scrambled to his fallen leader.
“Are these boys your crew?” she asked the injured boy. When he didn’t answer right away, she poked him in the ribs with the tip of her sword. Not enough to injure, but enough to make her point.
“Yes, yes!” the boy shrieked, as he tried shrinking from Jahan’s gaze, and sword.
“Tell them that they work for me now.”
The boy stared, and Jahan thought she saw pleading in his eyes. The rest of the boys drew closer to see what their leader would say. He sighed and nodded.
“You’re pretty tough with that sword,” a voice intoned from within the group. Another boy stepped forward. He was a head shorter than the leader. “The leader of our gang needs to be tough with his fists as well.”
Jahan swung her sword and it lodged into the tree. She turned to face the new boy as he stood next to their fallen leader. He kicked the boy in the ribs and stood defiantly with his arms crossed.
Jahan leapt over the boy as the short one reared back to deliver another kick. Her foot landed in his stomach, and he doubled over and Jahan bounced and landed on the fallen leader, eliciting another shriek of pain from him.
The young boy who had wrapped the leader’s knee with scraps of his tunic helped Jahan to her feet. She returned his smile and stepped over her second victory over the gang.
“Anyone else wish to challenge me?” she demanded. When no one else stepped forward, she continued. “I could spend the whole day dispatching you lowly rabble, but then I’d have to give you all time to heal before you help me rescue a young girl.”
She retrieved her sword, and started walking back to where she left Asis. “Someone help those two,” she shouted over shoulder, as the group began following their new leader.
* * *
Asis had a heavy heart as she watched carrion land on Nemr’s body slowly baking in the sun. She tried throwing rocks at them with her good arm when screaming obscenities failed to drive them away.
The echoes of her bizarre dream repeated themselves in her head, and she gave up trying to protect Nemr’s body from the avian interlopers. She couldn’t turn away, without pain radiating from her injuries, and causing her vision to blur.
She eyed the birds snapping at each other, and didn’t have much faith that they’d know the difference between a decaying corpse, and an unconscious girl. Their cawing and scratching at each other reminded her of the dream again.
A golden bird that Asis could not identify landed among the sea of black. Its brilliant plumage seemed to reflect the sun, and it hopped around the other birds squawking. It spread its wings and took to the sky, the carrion birds following close behind.
Next: Sleep of Ages