Journey to Exile
by Erik Weiss
Part 2, Part 3|
appear in this issue.
|part 1 of 3|
Mira and her mother made their way back to camp after a long morning of washing laundry in a nearby stream. They weren’t always this near to a body of water, so when the opportunity presented itself they took full advantage of it. It was likely they would stay camped here for a week more, before the tribe chieftain decided it was time to move on.
Following the vast herds of bison across the southern plains was a way of life for Mira and her people. Living out of tents, moving week to week, or day to day at times, the women spent their days washing, sewing, cooking, and watching over the children. The men of the tribe spent the majority of their hours either hunting or warring with rivaling tribes.
“When will we move again, mother?” Mira asked.
“Impatient, are we?” came her mother’s response.
“Not impatient mother, simply curious. It always worries me being this close to the forest,” Mira explained. The constant threat from the southern forests was something that the tribe tried hard to avoid. But there were times when they were forced to set up their portable village in the shadow of the ghor-controlled lands. The need to follow the herds was the greatest need of all to a tribe.
“Fear not, my daughter. Baerstan is a wise and brave leader. As is his son,” she smiled knowingly at her daughter at the mention of the chieftain’s son. Mira had come of age the summer before, and as was traditional amongst the barbarian tribes, she was betrothed shortly after her eighteenth year. In this case, Mira’s mother had arranged for her to be wed to Baerstan’s son, Beorg.
Mira was skeptical at first; she didn’t like the idea of having her future laid out before her with little say in the matter. But after nearly a year, she found that the match was not such a bad one.
In fact, she found herself looking forward to every moment she spent with her future husband. Not only was he kind to her, an uncommon characteristic for a barbarian man to show to a woman, but he was also among the most revered men in the tribe, a successful hunter, and a fearsome warrior. Mira found herself filled with pride.
Blushing slightly — thinking of Beorg often brought color to her cheeks — Mira responded, “Of course mother, I’m sure that all will be well. But I fear for our warriors, venturing so close to the forest. It would not be unusual for those creatures to set an ambush for any who ventured near enough.”
She paused and let out a long sigh. “I can’t help but think it is a bit foolish for us to travel so close. There are other herds farther out into the plains that would sustain us. Why do we follow this one into such danger?”
“Mira!” her mother hissed, irritation strong in her voice, “it is not your place to question the decisions of the Chieftain. He speaks for the tribe in these matters.” The older woman stopped their march back into camp and turned to regard her daughter. Her anger was quickly extinguished by the hurt look in her daughter’s large green eyes.
“Really, Mira, you must learn your place among our people, especially if you are to be wed. Your husband will not be as tolerant of your free tongue as I am. Come along now, we have much to do.”
Mira was frustrated by her mother’s words, and more so by the fact that they held more than a little truth. Mira knew that she would spend her life in meek servitude. Obeying another, and fearful of making a comment or a suggestion that might bring on the wrath of that person. And all, quite simply, because she had been born a woman. It was enough to make her want to scream, but she held it in. Shaking her head briskly enough to send her waist length braid of honey colored hair swinging, she stomped off ahead of her mother toward the camp.
Mira entered the tent she shared with her mother to find her older twin brothers waiting there for her. Raon and Brigden were a large part of the reason Mira often found herself saying and doing things to get herself into trouble. Despite the scowls and occasional lashings they got for it, the brothers would often take their younger sister out with them on excursions into the plains. Whether hunting bison or tracking rival tribes, it was something that no other woman in the tribe had done. Nor were they permitted to do so if they desired it.
After spending her years running with her brothers, Mira believed that she was meant for more than the meager life the women of the tribes were bound to. The only thing that kept the twins from being cast out for their actions was the fact that they were, arguably, the two fiercest warriors in the tribe. Both men stood nearly seven feet tall, and were broad enough to have to turn sideways in order to enter the tent. Their exploits in combat were among those told frequently at firesides and feasts.
Today, however, both of Mira’s brothers wore pained looks on their faces as they sat in the center of the tent waiting on the return of their mother and sister. Puzzled, Mira dropped the basket of clothes in the corner of the tent and went to join them. A moment later her mother entered the tent and, judging by the look in her eye, she too could see that there was something amiss with her sons.
“What is it?” Mira asked.
Raon sighed and shook his head slightly, looking first to his brother, then to his mother and finally letting his gaze settle on Mira. “There was an attack this morning. Five of our men went out to scout some activity near the tree line to the south. They were ambushed by a host of ghors.” Raon turned his gaze from his sister, letting it settle to the floor, the pain obvious in his expression as well as his voice, “Beorg was among them.”
“NO!” Mira cried. She fell to her knees and looked up to her brothers. “Is he... is he dead?” Her voice was trembling so severely that her words were difficult for the twins to understand.
“As good as,” Brigden responded. “One man escaped the assault, and he reports that Beorg was captured.”
Now it was Brigden’s turn to let out a heavy sigh as his gaze locked on his sisters. Her green eyes welled up with tears. “Likely he will be sacrificed to their god at sunrise. That is the way with the brutes.”
“No!” Mira cried again, and she felt her mother’s touch on her shoulder as she began to sob.
“All will be well, child,” her mother told her over and over as she cradled her in her arms.
“How can that be?” Mira argued. “He will be murdered! Is there nothing we can do?”
Raon was shaking his head before Mira had finished speaking the words. “No, Mira. Baerstan has forbidden any to go after his son.”
“Why would he do such a thing!” Mira shouted. “This is his own son.”
“Yes, but you know as well as I that Baerstan has little use for family ties. Besides, the ghors reside in the solace of the forest; we cannot hope to meet them on their own ground, with the numbers in their favor, and still emerge victorious,” Raon explained.
Brigden crouched beside his sister, taking her hand in his and lightly touching her cheek. “I am truly sorry, my dear sister, but our Chieftain will hear no more on the matter. He says that we will strike if the brutes leave the forest; otherwise...”
Brigden let the words trail off, but the thought rang through clearly to Mira. Her love would be killed at dawn of the next day, and no one was doing anything about it. Not good enough! she thought to herself. The image of her future husband being torturously sacrificed to some savage god was enough to set the fiery young woman into a rage.
“I will not let that... that man simply forget about his own son!” Mira shouted, her anger boiling to the surface. She felt her mother’s grip tighten around her and she realized that she was no longer lying helplessly on the floor of the tent; rather, she was struggling against her mother to stand.
“Please, Mira, control your feelings. We will all miss Beorg, but rushing about shouting at our Chieftain is not the way to express your grief.”
Mira threw back her mother’s arms and rose in the center of the tent, a towering brother on either side of her, each shaking his head in disapproval. “I suppose the two of you think this is just something that I will have to accept as well, yes?” Both men simply shrugged their shoulders helplessly at their mother as Mira stormed out of the tent and toward the center of the village.
It did not take her long to find the Chieftain of the tribe. Baerstan was an imposing man himself, huge and strongly muscled. His graying hair hung down to his shoulders and he wore a perpetual scowl on his face. One could usually mark his presence by the flock of men and women swarming around him. His wife had long since passed away, and Baerstan was known to take a new lover from time to time — a task that many of the tribe’s women were willing to take on. The others, military advisors and leaders of hunting parties mostly, constantly sought to win the favor of the man, the most important figure in their community.
Mira approached the group and wove her way through the throng of bodies to stand before Baerstan. Squaring herself to the man, Mira set a scowl of her own upon her face as she stared up at him defiantly. She found her resolve wavering a bit under the intense stare of the huge man, and had to keep reminding herself that her betrothed was out there somewhere, and in great danger. She imagined that she looked a fool squared up against a man standing nearly a foot taller than her.
“What is it, child!” Baerstan boomed. His voice was so deep and so loud that it reverberated in Mira’s chest, further weakening her resolve.
“Your son... Beorg, he is...” she cursed herself silently for the wavering of her voice, and the stammering that the man instilled in her. Still, she managed to hold his stare without shrinking away.
“Yes, I know who my son is!” Baerstan roared in response. “What is your point, woman?”
His tone and his callous attitude only enraged Mira further, and her anger firmed her resolve as she stared into the Chieftain’s eyes. “You would leave him to these savages!” she screamed back at him.
Baerstan’s scowl deepened as the woman raised her voice to him. Not an action he was accustomed to, and not one that he took lightly. “It is the way of the world: men die, and life goes on,” he growled.
“You cannot...” Mira’s words trailed off as her vision blurred and the world seemed to spin around her. Before she realized what had happened she was lying on her back staring up at the man. Her face was numb and throbbing from the force of his full-armed slap.
“You will not question me again!” Baerstan growled down at her as he walked past.
As Mira struggled to regain her focus she caught sight of her mother running up through the labyrinth of tents, the twins not far behind. After a moment Mira was able to force herself into a sitting position, her head throbbing painfully, and her face swelling. She realized something that made a slight smile appear on her lips. Despite Baerstan’s actions, and the stares she received from so many people, and the lecture she was sure to receive from her mother, Mira found something she did not expect. Determination.
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by Erik Weiss