Home > Warrior of the Wild(4)

Warrior of the Wild(4)
Tricia Levenseller

“I left of my own will, Father,” I say. “I’m to blame. Not Mother.”

He ignores me. “Do you have any idea how important tomorrow is for her? She will participate in the most difficult test we’ve ever devised, and afterward, she will finally become a ma—woman. A woman.”

“Father—” I try again.

“Go to your room, Rasmira. Get rested.”

“But you’re making the others stay up to guard the boundaries! What is my punishment?”

“Your eye is swollen shut. That’s punishment enough. The boys were fighting you in the woods. Their punishment is more severe.”

“Torrin wasn’t, though. He was on my side.”

“And is he the one who convinced you to sneak out of your bed tonight?”

My silence is answer enough.

“Go to bed. Now. The rest of you girls go to your rooms as well. Where is Irrenia? She should see to Rasmira.”

“Still out,” Mother rushes to say, glad to have an answer to something.

“All right. You can wait up for her and direct her to Rasmira’s room when she gets in. I’m to bed.”

Father pats me once on the shoulder before shuffling off. A sign of affection that Mother watches with a sharp eye.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper to her.

“Torlhon said you’re to go to bed,” she bites out. “So be off. Tomorrow we can finally be done with you.”

She sits herself in one of the cushioned chairs, staring fixedly at the door. My sisters go to their rooms, and I do the same, unwilling to be left alone with Mother.

My room is the last at the end of a long, empty hallway. Embers from the fire set the room aglow. Elda, the housekeeper, lit it before I climbed into bed—shortly before I climbed out of it and snuck out the window.

I don’t go to the bed now. If the boys are punished with a night without sleep, then I will be, too. I sit on the floor, reach under the bed, and pull out a small box.

Good thing Elda doesn’t bother with cleaning under the bed.

I open the lid and stare at the shiny contents.

My mother and sisters (save Irrenia) all chose jeweling as their professions. All the miners bring the best finds to Mother with the hopes of earning her favor. She’s also the most beautiful woman in the village—a fact she never lets me forget—and sometimes miners will seek her out when they don’t have jewels to sell. They shower her with compliments. No one has a larger section in the high goddess’s Book of Merits than my mother, I’m sure.

At the top of my jewelry box is a sapphire necklace, the centerpiece the size of the pad of my thumb. Salvanya, my eldest sister, gave it to me as a gift for my last birthday. Beneath it is a bracelet rimmed with rubies. That’s from Tormosa. Alara and Ashari made me matching ruby earrings.

I’ve never worn anything in this box outside the confines of this room. If my father saw me dressing in such finery, he’d be ashamed. Warriors do not wear jewelry. Even Torrin gets reproach for the sentimental bracelet he wears, which is why he tries to keep it hidden under his armor at all times.

And if my mother saw me, she’d laugh and probably make some comment about how gems could never hide how ugly and unfeminine I am.

I wade through more items: a turquoise choker, a topaz anklet, an emerald-dressed headpiece.

At the very bottom are two plain items, but they’re my favorite. I pull them out, even dare to put them on.

Black earrings. My ears were pierced by the time I turned six, but before that, I longed to wear beautiful earrings like my older sisters. Mother knew this, so she made me earrings out of special plain black rocks. She called them lodestones. Some natural reaction between the two ends draws them together, holding up the pieces with my ear suspended between.

I remember what she told me, how I was one end of the earring while she was the other, held together by a powerful force.

That was before I declared myself a warrior. Before my mother hated me. I wouldn’t dare wear them in front of her now. She might demand them back.

But I dream of wearing them in front of her, of her seeing them and remembering the words she once spoke.

I know it’s foolish thinking—nothing could sway her now. She wears her hatred like an armor fused to her skin, never to come off. It is the only thing that protects her from my father’s constant rejection.

She doesn’t realize I would give up his praise in an instant if it meant I could have a real mother. One like Torrin’s, who grieves every day for the child she never even knew.

A door slams, and I hurry to throw everything back in the box, pulling the stones from my ears and chucking them inside, closing the lid, and shoving it under the bed.

My door opens not even a second after the box slides out of sight.

“What did I miss?” Irrenia asks. She is only one year my senior and the sister I cherish the most.

“I snuck out of the house. Father blamed Mother for it.”

She opens her mouth, likely about to demand more details, but then she sees my face. “There’s a cut on your cheek, and what happened to your eye? Mother didn’t—”

“No. It wasn’t Mother.” She is not foolish enough to actually strike me. Not when I am warrior trained.

Irrenia enters the room fully, gets behind me, and steers me down the hall. “Tell me everything.”

I do so as she plunks me into a chair in her room and digs in one of her drawers for some sort of salve. She rubs it onto my swollen eye, and it begins to twitch from the stinging sensation caused by the salve.

“Ow,” I say.

“Oh hush. It’ll feel better in a moment.”

I close my other eye and take in the rich scent of Irrenia’s room. She does not work at the jewelers with everyone else. Irrenia trained to become a healer. She passed her trial just last year, but she’s already the best with medicine in the village. Her room is filled with her own concoctions, and it smells of soothing herbs. Lately she’s been experimenting with ziken venom, trying to find a way to make the warriors immune to their paralyzing bite.

Irrenia has the kindest spirit of anyone I know, which is why she is always home so late. She can’t bear to turn away those who are sick or injured. She continues to work each day until she has no more patients or until she drops from exhaustion.

Though I still cannot open my injured eye, the stinging sensation abates, replaced by a soothing numbness.

She rubs more salve onto the wound, and I finish telling her everything that happened tonight, leaving out no details.

“Sneaking out was stupid,” she says when I’m finished. “There are a hundred different ways you could have been injured or killed. I’m just relieved a punch to the face is the worst of your injuries. What if you’d run into the ziken in the wild? We wouldn’t have even recognized your remains in the morning! And what would happen to Father then?”

“Oh yes, poor Father. Whatever would he do without an heir to carry on his legacy?”

“He loves you, Rasmira. It would break him to see you go.”

Because of his own investment in me. It has nothing to do with me as a person.

“At least Mother would be happy then,” I say.

She flicks my swollen eye with a finger.

I let out a sound that probably wakes Ashari over in the next room. “What the hell, Irrenia!” I cup a hand gently over my eye.

“I don’t want to hear you talking like that. Everyone has problems. Don’t make Mother’s and Father’s your own. You are not at fault for anything.” She puts a finger under my chin to raise my eyes to hers. “I love you. It sounds like that boy of yours is quite fond of you. Your instructors adore you. But even if they didn’t, it doesn’t matter. You are worthy of love. Not everyone knows how to love the right way. But you remember how that feels and vow never to do it to others.”

“You’re awfully wise, you know that?” I say. “And you’re the kindest person I know.” I tell her that last part every day. If there is anyone who deserves a place of honor in Rexasena’s Paradise, it is Irrenia. And I remind the goddess every day through my compliments.

“Enough about me,” Irrenia says. “Let’s discuss how we’re going to get this boy to kiss you.”

CHAPTER 3

Despite all of Irrenia’s wild ideas (“Find a way to get trapped in a dark, tight spot with him,” “Pretend to trip in his direction so he has to catch you with your lips inches from his,” and “Tell him you’ve got something stuck in your eye, and you need him to take a look”), I’ve decided that I will not wait any longer for Torrin to make the first move.

I’m going to kiss him.

As soon as we’ve both passed our trial—it’s the perfect moment.

I fall asleep on the floor of my room with that thought in my mind. The next morning, I take some satisfaction in my aching back and neck. Torrin had to stay up all night. I’d tried to do the same, but at least I can say I’m being punished for my part.

I do not need long to prepare myself in the morning. I wash myself down with a rag and soapy water, put on a fresh set of warm hides, buckle my boots, and then survey my armor lying out on the far table. Our metalsmiths pound iron into flat sheets and shape them to our bodies. Mine fit perfectly, and I take pride in the simple act of donning them each morning. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up. First come the greaves, which consist of two separate sheets for each lower leg and slide into thin openings in my leathers. I curve one over the top of each shin; the other two slide over my calves. The thigh guards are a bit trickier due to the size, but they slide on the same way. I pull my breastplate over my head and tighten the straps, remembering the embarrassment on Father’s face when the smithy had to round it out more for my breasts. My forearm and upper arm guards go on next.

Last and most importantly, I slide my ax through the sheath on my back.

I check and double-check everything. Ensure that all is secure, tight, and comfortable.

At a knock on my door, my heart skips a beat. I know it can’t be Irrenia. She said the previous night that she was to go see patients until the time of my trial.

It’s Father.

He strides into my room and looks me over from head to toe, hands hidden behind his back.

When he finishes his assessment, he nods to himself. “Your eye is better. Irrenia did fine work. And I’m proud of you, Rasmira. You will do splendidly today. Let us forget last night’s escapade ever happened.”

I bet Torrin wishes he’d extend the same sentiment to him.

“It is customary for family members to bestow a gift after you complete your trial, but I wish to give you mine now.”

He shows me what he’d been hiding behind his back.

There’s no other word for it. The ax is beautiful. I take it in my hands to inspect it. The iron has been polished until it shines. It is a bit heavier than my first ax, the shaft as long as one of my legs. But the weight is perfectly balanced. The double ax heads are wickedly sharp, ready to cut through flesh as effortlessly as a fish skims through water. Etched into the blades are a series of swirling knots, alluring and intricate. Some of the designs morph into dragon-like figures; others take the shape of birds.

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