“Is she dead?”
Jahan turned to her second-in-command. “I think she is in a deep sleep,” she declared, and looked back to her rabble, as they descended the cliff via woven vine ropes. Jahan knelt and examined Asis’s injuries, only to discover they were not as bad as they seemed earlier. The blood and torn garments revealed where each injury was, but try as she may, Jahan was unable to find any.
“What of that,” one of the boys asked, pointing to the pile of freshly picked bones and scraps of cloth.
“In a day or two there will be nothing left.” Jahan turned back to Asis, and slapped her cheek gently.
Asis’s eyes fluttered open, and when she focused on the face of a concerned Jahan, she whispered. “I have basked in the glory of Lady Akila.” Tears welled in her eyes, and she lifted her dirty hands to wipe them away. “I have been blessed,” she continued.
Jahan nodded, and motioned for several of the boys to assist Asis to her feet. When Asis was standing, Jahan clasped her hands. “It is a miracle,” she said as she wiped dirt from Asis’s forehead and cheeks. “Can you climb?”
Asis flexed her arms, retrieved her daggers, and started the climb up the cliff. Several of the boys groaned as the realization of their rescue unfulfilled necessitated they climb back up to the Dawn Road, but a look from Jahan staunched all complaints.
As Jahan climbed hand over hand, she contemplated her next move. Her destiny was as easy to see as the Falls of Dawn in the distance.
* * *
Kamaria surveyed the village. Most of the huts were still smoldering. She sniffed. It wasn’t just thatch and wood that had burned. The children and Talib followed as she walked through the debris-filled avenues.
She didn’t have a specific destination in mind, but her feet having made the journey so many times, she saw a familiar house in the distance. As far as she could tell, it was fairly undamaged. She saw a figure push a broom, clearing off the cobblestone that served as a porch.
The figure looked up and when she saw Kamaria and the children, the broom fell from her grasp. The woman abandoned her cleaning, and rushed to Kamaria. Bree stepped out from behind Kamaria, and stared at the woman.
She fell to her knees in front of Bree. “Bree,” she wailed and gathered the child into her arms. “I feared you dead!”
Bree nodded, and returned her mother’s hug. “This in my mother, Kamaria,” she spoke, the edge of her voice faltering as her mother hugged her tighter.
The embrace finally ended, and Bree’s mother stood, and hugged Kamaria. “Do I have you to thank for keeping my daughter safe?”
“I had assistance,” she replied, looking to Talib.
Bree’s mother followed Kamaria’s eyes, and regarded Talib. “Did you find them?”
Talib nodded. “Kamaria kept them safe until I found them in the Dawn Forest.”
“Thank you both!”
Talib nodded, then spoke to Kamaria. “We need to find the parents of these children.”
Kamaria said her goodbyes to Bree, and the group wandered deeper into the village. Kamaria worried that not all of the children would have happy reunions as Bree did, but she looked forward to as many as she could facilitate.
* * *
Ejaz surveyed the battlefield. The bandit horde lay as bloodied corpses. Carrion birds were already flittering about, a fresh feast laid before them. The injured Denizens had already retreated to healing tents.
“Burn them all,” Ejaz declared, pulled the reigns of his horse and trotted back to the Dawn Road, and base camp. He needn’t look back, as the Denizens of Dawn fulfilled their duties to the Marquis. Normally he would’ve assisted, but his thoughts kept drifting back to his sister and her rabble.
“They’re going to be trouble,” he said to no one in particular, and urged his horse to a gallop.
* * *
“Are you the sister of the Marquis?” the merchant asked incredulously as he stared at the rabble lounging in the shadow of a tree.
“I am, kind merchant,” she replied. “Will you assist my militia?”
“Militia?” the merchant gasped, as he gazed first at Jahan, then to Asis.
“Indeed,” Jahan responded, “warring is not just for the Denizens of Dawn.”
“Nor is it the exclusive domain of men,” a voice intoned.
Jahan and the merchant turned to the sultry voice. Zoraya stared at the merchant with an intensity she was renown for.
“Lady Zoraya,” the merchant and Asis said in unison. Jahan smiled, and strode confidently to her future sister in law. The embrace was brief, as Jahan worried she would soil the beautiful dress that highlighted Zoraya’s eyes.
“I will pay you for your wares, kind merchant,” Zoraya declared.
“For you, Lady Zoraya, betrothed to the Marquis of Dawn, and you,” he turned to Jahan, “sister of our greatest warrior, I will sell you supplies at my cost.”
Zoraya and Jahan nodded as the merchant returned to his carriage, and started a pile of the requested items. Asis followed them as they walked back to the motley crew lounging against and around the tall tree.
“What will you do, Asis?” Jahan asked as they stood at the periphery of the gang of boys.
“I am nearly of age, Jahan,” she replied. “I offer my skills as a hunter, and both my dagger and spear.”
Jahan raised her eyebrows.
Asis smiled. “I am the worst student Master Hunter Gahiji has ever had the displeasure of training.”
Jahan and Zoraya exchanged a look.
“Worry not, Jahan,” Asis responded with merriment in her voice. “I was considered quite adept with my daggers before my parents forced me to train with Master Gahiji.” She turned to Zoraya. “Will you please get word to my parents that I am well?”
Zoraya nodded, and returned to settle up with the merchant. Jahan surveyed her militia, and shook her head as they continued to lounge in the shadow of the tree.