Journey to Exile
by Erik Weiss
Part 1, Part 3|
appear in this issue.
|part 2 of 3|
Two hours after the sun had set; Mira lay in her blankets listening to her mother’s rhythmic breathing across the tent. Slipping the covers back, she slowly slipped out of her bedding and stood in the center of the small room in the rear of the two-room tent. Silently she moved through the heavy curtain dividing the two halves of the tent and found her clothes lying neatly on a stool in the corner.
She dressed quickly, slipping into the snuggest blouse she owned, not wanting to risk snagging something bulky when she was trying to be silent. She left her bulky skirt on the stool, and slipped into a pair of men’s under-shorts which she had managed to steal from one of her brothers. After lacing up her sandals, Mira grabbed her belt knife and slipped silently out of the tent and into the night.
She felt naked, or near enough to it without the typical modesty her skirt provided. She also felt foolish for giving it a second thought. Keeping to the deepest of the shadows, Mira made her way to the edge of the camp where she had hidden away her bow. Not unusual, it was always hidden; she could just imagine the look on her mother’s face if she knew that her daughter actually had her own bow! As Mira tied her quiver onto her back she caught sight of the two massive forms lurking in the shadows to her left.
She let out a long breath as she realized how foolish it was to assume she would slip out unnoticed. Mira turned and regarded her brothers. “I suppose you came to haul me back to mother kicking and screaming?”
“No,” came Brigden’s voice from the shadows. The twins stepped into the dim light offered by the moon and Mira could see the worry on their faces. “But we did come to talk some sense into you.”
Mira began shaking her head before he had even finished speaking. She squared herself, locking her gaze in turn to those of her brothers. She planted her hands on her hips and set her feet wide. Determined not to back down she spoke in the firmest tone she could muster. “You think I should not go because I am a woman?”
“We think you should not go because it is a cause beyond hope,” Raon pleaded. “Were we to take every warrior in the tribe into the forest, we would be hard pressed to come out on top. The ghors are many, and they are dug in.”
“Would either of you do less if it was your betrothed?” Mira retorted, still standing firm and refusing to back down from the obvious logic of her brothers.
Both of the twins stood in silence for a moment, looking to each other, then to their sister. Raon stepped forward and put his hands on Mira’s shoulders, kissing her forehead lightly. “Go with my prayers, sister.”
Brigden’s eyes went wide as he listened to his brother’s remark. Raon simply shrugged and spread his hands in a helpless gesture.
“You were always the stubborn one,” Brigden said, his tone grim and his face contorted into a scowl. He too stepped forward and kissed his sister lightly on the forehead. “If you have not returned by morning, we will tell mother of your venture.”
Mira nodded her head and started away quickly, still fearful that one of them might drag her back into the camp by force. Truthfully, she almost wished that had happened. She honestly had no idea of what she was going to do, only that she could not let her love die without making some effort to save him from these foul men.
An hour of hard running brought Mira close enough to the forest that it appeared as a massive black shadow on the horizon, the tree line barely discernable from the grassland in the night. After studying the ground for what seemed an eternity, she was able to find the tracks left by the scouting party that was ambushed the previous day. It seems my time with my brothers has paid off, she mused to herself.
Fearing watching eyes, Mira crawled on her belly the last three hundred paces to the edge of the forest, always keeping the trail of the scouting party in front of her. When she neared the tree line it was obvious enough to her where the party had been attacked. The ground was still wet with the blood of the fallen, and more than a few ghor bodies lay at the edge of the wood.
As she entered the forest Mira drew herself back up onto her feet — she could just imagine the noise she would make crawling on her face through the brush of the forest. She crept as silently as she could manage, from tree to tree, another shadow in a night full of shadows. Fortunately, the ghors were not known for their intellect, or their stealth, so the path was not too difficult to discern.
After what seemed like an eternity of sneaking from tree to tree, shadow to shadow, Mira spotted a campfire. As she drew nearer, she could make out the form of a slumbering ghor sentry, lying several yards from the small camp. She wondered if all of the sentries were this diligent in their work. If so, her task would prove all the easier.
Taking a closer look at the area though, Mira’s spirits quickly diminished, for there seemed to be a good number of the brutes sleeping in small clusters on the other side of the fire. In fact, it seemed to her eyes that there were many other fires cooling in the night, having been left unattended for the hours since the men had fallen asleep.
Fitting an arrow to her bow, Mira crept closer and closer to the slumbering man. She had never actually seen a ghor before, but from all the descriptions she’d heard, it didn’t surprise her to find how ugly they truly were. In truth they were not as imposing as she had imagined. Their bodies were squat and powerful, their skin dark and painted. The one she approached now had a strong odor about him and she wondered if they believed in bathing.
Roughly five yards from the sentry Mira paused. She knew full well that she might have to do a bit of killing before the night was over with, but now that the moment was upon her, she wasn’t so sure she could go through with it. The thought of killing another person, even if he was a ghor, did not bring her warm feelings. Steeling her nerves, Mira drew her bow back, leveling the head of the arrow with the man’s closed eye. A quick and quiet kill, she told herself over and over.
Still she found herself hesitating, wishing one of her brothers was with her to tell her it was all right, to know that no matter how she fared, one of them would be there to make everything work out for the best. But they were not here; she was alone, and her love was inside that camp. Her thoughts were cut short when she realized that the ghor in front of her was stirring. Mira watched in horror as the brute opened his eyes. He didn’t move at first, struggling to rid himself of the fogginess of sleep. Then suddenly his eyes went wide in terror as he realized Mira had her bow pointed directly at his head. The ghor opened its mouth to let out a scream, and Mira let loose her arrow.
It was a short flight, with Mira crouched so near, and her aim was true. The arrow pierced the ghor’s left eye and continued through into the trunk of the tree, leaving the ugly man pinned, his mouth still hanging open in a scream that never came.
Mira stayed in that crouched position, across from the dead man for some time, pondering her first kill. The thought of it made her want to vomit, thinking that she had ended another’s life. Dragging forth all of her anger over Beorg and his father’s reactions to it all, Mira again steeled her resolve. Likely this would not be the only one of these savages she would have to slay this night. She kept reminding herself that the cause was righteous and that Beorg would be murdered come dawn if she failed in her task.
Peering out from behind a tree, Mira could see the slumbering forms of the ghors around the campfire. Five of them, and in the shadow to the side was her goal, Beorg, bound and beaten. Mira could not tell for sure if he was sleeping, unconscious, or dead. She needed to find out.
The few minutes it took to circle the small campsite in the shadows seemed like hours to Mira. Every step was measured, every breath taken in and let out with caution. Finally she made her way to the side of the camp where her betrothed sat slumped against a tree. She crept through the dense growth of the forest and into the clearing, an arrow held ready in her bow, just in case one of the foul smelling creatures should spot her.
She slipped behind Beorg, rather proud of herself for the silence of her approach, for not one leaf crumpled beneath her foot. She gently put a hand around in front of the barbarian and cupped it over his mouth. She started when he suddenly stirred. Slowly she leaned in and whispered into his ear. “Be still, my love.” The tension seemed to ease out of his muscles at the sound of her familiar voice.
Quietly she set her bow down on the ground and drew out her belt knife. Ever so gently she eased the knife between the big man’s wrists and the thick ropes that bound him. In a few short moments she had both his wrists and ankles cut free, and the pair were gingerly leaving the camp.
Beorg, badly beaten and severely limping was none too quiet, and very slow. Mira followed cautiously behind, her bow held at the ready. She knew that she would be more help standing ready for an attack than trying to support Beorg, especially since the man was nearly double her own weight.
It was then that she realized her error, for in her haste to leave with Beorg, she had not led him through the same path she had used to enter. She nearly cried out in shock when she saw the big man trip and fall to the ground. There, propped up against a tree, rudely awakened, was another ghor sentry. Mira drew back her bow and let an arrow fly. True to her brothers’ training, she hit right where she aimed, just below the man’s chin. But it wasn’t fast enough, for the brute let out a wail as the arrow streaked in and found its mark.
Mira set out at a dead run toward Beorg, who was still struggling to get his feet back under him. She caught him by the arm and did her best to drag him along as she trudged recklessly through the thick foliage that nearly covered the forest floor. Behind her she could hear the rousing shouts and curses of the ghors. No doubt they had found their prisoner missing and two of their own dead. She pushed on, as fast as her companion’s bruised and beaten legs could carry him. Her heart raced, and adrenaline pumped as they scrambled along, the shouts of dozens of angry men closing in behind them.
Mira shrieked when an arrow streaked by her close enough that she felt the draught. Then she cried out again when she realized that the arrow hadn’t come from behind, but from in front of them. Her fear quickly subsided when she heard the grunt of a falling ghor behind her and saw two hulking forms appear from behind the trees in front of her.
“Run on!” came Raon’s voice from the darkness, “you must get into the open plain where the ghors fear to go.” Two more arrows streaked by and she heard more grunts come from the closing ranks of their pursuers. On and on she ran, dragging Beorg along as best she could. Surprisingly, the farther they ran, the less Beorg seemed to stumble. The adrenaline pumping through his blood had shaken the weariness brought on by his captivity.
Scraped, bruised, and battered, Mira broke free of the tree line, Beorg just a step behind her, running under his own strength now, though breathing heavily and favoring his left leg. Both of them collapsed onto the ground nearly spent, a mixture of blood and sweat covering their bodies. A moment later the twins emerged from the forest, running full out. Mira noted that her brothers were also covered in blood, but to her relief, she didn’t think that any of it was their own.
Brigden had his bow slung across his back and held a heavy bladed, blood covered axe in each hand. Raon stood close by, bow in hand, scanning the trees for any signs of pursuers. “We must keep moving!” Raon hissed. “The entire camp of the beasts is up and fighting mad.”
Brigden briskly slid both of his weapons back into his belt and pulled Mira up by her arm. “Run!” he shouted into her face. He similarly grabbed Beorg and shoved him along. Mira and Beorg ran on towards the camp at a steady pace, if a bit slower than Mira’s as she had set out earlier in the night. Raon and Brigden remained just out of sight to the rear, hoping to cut off any potential pursuers.
As the twins had hoped, the ghors were not willing to pursue the group out of the comfortable surroundings of their woodland. The plain was, after all, the domain of the barbarian, a fact the brutes had learned well over the years.
* * *
Mira and her brothers stood in the center of the tribe’s makeshift village. The sun was still a few hours from its zenith, yet they had returned some three hours ago. Though all three looked a bit haggard after a sleepless night, not to mention the fighting in the forest, they all held their heads high. Mira, though, looked the worst of the three; she had taken several falls while aiding her love out of his captivity, and she showed it through many scrapes and cuts scattered over her bare legs and partially exposed stomach. All that remained of her cotton shirt was a few tattered shreds of cloth that hung in disarray over her shoulders.
With the group gathered around the trio, Mira felt even more exposed than she had the previous night when she left the camp. No doubt her appearance was enough to earn her a lashing on its own; never in her life had she seen a woman of the tribe expose her legs outside the privacy of her own tent.
The scowl that typically decorated Baerstan’s face was now twisted into a look of pure rage and hatred as he looked at the three standing before him. He took an extra minute to study Mira, standing between her two strong brothers and looking at the Chieftain defiantly despite her predicament.
“You heard my decision yesterday and you disobeyed me!” the huge man’s voice boomed through the uncomfortable silence that had settled over the camp. His gaze now fixed upon Mira. “You are the one who instigated this incident, are you not!”
Mira was overwhelmed by the man’s anger. Why was he in such a rage? She had saved his son’s life, after all! The thoughts kept running through her head, over and over. This makes no sense to me. “I set out last night to bring home my betrothed... your son!” she said, her tone far more firm than she expected it to be with all of the butterflies flittering around in her stomach. “My brothers simply came after me, they had nothing to do with it.”
“Nothing to do with it!” Baerstan roared all the louder. “Did they not come to your aid and escort you and Beorg back here?” Baerstan, his rage building, continued his tirade before Mira was able to respond to his question.
He turned his glare on the twins, considering each in turn. “Tie them at the north end of the camp. They will learn the price of betraying their leader!” Baerstan shouted, and a group of men, more than any Mira had seen for this type of duty, stepped from behind Baerstan. Obviously the Chieftain expected some type of resistance from the fearsome twins. But to his disappointment they offered none.
Copyright © 2007 by Erik Weiss