[1000 words – Word-a-Week]Light flickered off earthen walls. The smell of charred meat filled the cavern. Kamaria watched the children gather clothing to provide beds for the youngest of them. The rest lounged in shifts, it all organized by Bree.
She fits the role of leader quite well, thought Kamaria. She saw minor cliques forming among the children from her village, but they all heeded Bree’s leadership, and ultimately Kamaria’s authority. She knew of bands of feral children, even in the capitol city. She suspected that what she witnessed in the cave had played out in cities across the land, and across time.
Kamaria had succeeded with her last arrow in securing the rope to the tree shadowing the crevasse. She was out of arrows for hunting, but she was able to pick several edible florae to augment the bats the children captured. Leaves and other castoffs filled coats and cloaks to use soften the uneven cavern floor.
Kamaria had gathered the materials to fletch arrows, but she wasn’t sure how to procure the feathers for fletching. The bones of the bats would make excellent inserts, and the larger bones could be carved into broadheads. The metal tips of her broken metal arrows provided a blade to carve, but her fingers were sore from holding such a delicate implement.
Kamaria leaned back against the cave wall, and watched the children as she allowed her cramped fingers a much-deserved rest.
* * *
Asis’s eyes snapped open and she watched a filthy boy crouch a few paces away. He stared at her, but made no move to assist her. The boy was covered from head to foot in mud. His long dark hair was braided and wrapped around his head. From a distance, she suspected it might be confused for a turban or other head gear.
“What is your name, boy?” she croaked, the sun drying her chapped lips and throat.
The boy regarded his hands, then felt over his own body. “Themba-” his voice cracked, and it appeared to startle him. He cleared his throat and began again. “My name is Themba.”
Asis stared, and waited for the Themba to continue.
He looked around, and glanced at his hands again. “Have you seen Lady Akila?”
Despite the pain, Asis made the proper hand gestures of respect. “You have seen her?” she asked.
Themba smiled and stood to his full height. He was short, Asis estimated he was ten or eleven winters old. Themba took a deep breath, and bounced from one foot to the other. “Of course,” he replied, “she has done this to me.” He emphasized the word by waving his hands from his face to his waist. “Would you believe that I am more than-“ he paused and closed his eyes. “Forty?” he asked the glittering field of stars that shone overhead. He nodded and returned his attention to Asis. “Forty winters old.”
Asis frowned and looked at Themba. “Surely you jest, boy.”
Themba nodded. “I understand your confusion.” He turned his back to Asis, and in the loudest voice he could muster, “Lady Akila?”
Asis made the sacred signs once again. She watched Themba call out for the deity twice, then thrice. Asis was about to warn Themba that his speech bordered on blasphemy, but he turned back to her.
“She’s fickle, that one.”
Asis covered her mouth to mask her discomfort from Themba’s sacrilege.
“She must want me to do something here.” His attention returned to Asis. “You know my name, what is yours, child?”
Asis ignored his proclamation, when she was obviously older than he. “Asis,” she whispered.
“Well, Asis, you appear to be thirsty. Is there an untainted source of water?” He looked back to Nemr’s body as he declared the quality of the water.
“Damn it, Akila!” He crossed his arms over his scrawny chest and stood defiantly looking to the heavens.
“Lady Akila does not take kindly to impiety, Themba. I’ll ask you to take your leave before your irreverence casts its taint on me.”
Themba scoffed. “Akila, heed my words: Return me to my land.”
A golden bird fluttered down, and landed on Themba’s mess of braided hair. The bird hopped to his crown, and looked down at him. He reached for the bird.
“Don’t,” the bird spoke. It opened its beak, and words came out.
Asis gasped, and tried to make herself as small as possible. The bird excreted on Themba’s head, and leapt off. Instead of taking flight, the bird transformed into a woman with golden hair and lips redder than the finest cloth from the City of Dawn. Her white vestments dragged through the mud as she walked toward Asis, but the perfectly white hem refused to gather dirt.
“Child,” she spoke quietly as she regarded Asis. The voice thundered in Asis’s head, as if the woman shouted through the finest battle horn. The woman stooped next to Asis, and kissed her fully on the lips.
The contact was ever so brief, but Asis “drank” her lips, and her thirst was quenched. The hunger from missing three meals now was gone as well. Asis was full on the essence of the woman. The experience would’ve been sung about by poets and priests.
“Lady Akila?” Asis asked, in a small voice.
Lady Akila smiled, and turned to Themba. “Themba, your service to me is almost complete.”
Themba rolled his eyes, and Asis gaped at his profanation. She tired to prostrate herself, but the constant pain made it impossible.
“Sleep, child,” Lady Akila whispered, and Asis obediently closed her eyes. Even through closed eyes, Asis witnessed a golden aura from her goddess. She couldn’t believe Lady Akila allowed words and actions inimical to divinity. Themba was either profoundly foolish, or a God she didn’t know. Her sight beyond sight watched as Lady Akila transformed to a giant bird of prey, flapped her wings, and carried Themba away in her talons.
Asis fell into a deep sleep; a restful sleep. It was the most restful sleep she’d had in days.
Next: Muffled Silence