Home > Warrior of the Wild(7)

Warrior of the Wild(7)
Tricia Levenseller

I finally catch sight of the head still grasped in Torrin’s hand. Only now it has red coating its teeth.

My blood.

Stupidly, I think Torrin must have accidentally hit me with it. But once I find the courage to drag my eyes up to his face, my world shatters.

He’s shaking with laughter. Cold. Fierce. Laughter.

When he catches his breath, he says to me, “Your life is over, Rat.”

CHAPTER 4

The horn blows, signaling the end of the trial. Pulleys yank up sections of the maze, and older warriors enter to deal with the rest of the ziken. Cheers ring through the amphitheater as families congratulate the victors. My father and sisters part the crowds, racing down to me.

Foolishly, I hide my left arm behind my back, as if that will stop the venom coursing through my veins.

Torrin walks over to Havard and claps him on the back. He whispers something to him, and the two laugh and turn in my direction.

There are words I should say. Things I should do. Emotions I should feel. My body wants to fight. My mind wants to run. I’m frozen like that. Just staring at Torrin with Havard, trying to understand what it means. Trying to understand what is going to happen to me.

Then the venom hits.

I collapse.

My muscles flare with pain, pinching and tightening, roiling. My arms and legs spasm as the venom works its way through my bloodstream. Uncomfortable screeching fills my ears as the armor at my back rubs against the rocky ground. My head darts every which way as my neck twitches.

A flash of blue sky.

Rocky soil in my mouth.

Torrin’s brown eyes.

“Rasmira’s been bitten!” he shouts for all to hear.

The cheers and stomps go quiet as I become a spectacle for all to see.

A sickening sensation spreads through me. Something that has nothing to do with the venom.

Humiliation.

I’ve been such a fool.

Torrin is an excellent actor. My aggressors have always openly hated me. It never once occurred to me that someone could hate me under a facade of friendship.

As I lie here, helpless to control my own body, a series of unseen moments flashes before my eyes: Torrin and Havard planning this move from the beginning, Torrin inwardly blanching every time he had to touch me, Havard’s secret smiles every time he saw me under Torrin’s spell, Torrin and Havard laughing over my gullibility.

The truth is so clear now.

Torrin put up with me for six whole weeks, pretending to be my friend, pretending to want to be more than my friend, all so that on this day I would let him get close enough to me to sabotage my test.

And to think, I thought I would finally have my first kiss today.

Bile heats the back of my throat. I vomit all over myself, start to choke on it as I’m still facing toward the sky, unable to roll on my side because the venom still controls my limbs.

Until someone is there, turning me.

“Get back!” Irrenia yells. “What’s wrong with all of you?”

She helps me to my side, places my head in her lap so I can’t injure myself as we wait the venom out.

Where is my father?

“It’s all right,” Irrenia says, stroking my hair. “It’ll be over in just a few seconds.”

She sees to the wounds of our warriors all the time. Of course she knows the effects of a ziken bite. But why is she lying to me? My shaking might stop soon.

But everything will not be all right.

* * *

FINALLY, MY BODY CALMS. My muscles are enflamed. I feel sluggish, tired, but I stand anyway, try to regain what dignity I have left as I wipe my face on the hides covering my forearm.

Then my eyes land on Torrin.

I want to curl into myself, hide my face from the world, from the shame, from the knowledge of what he did to me. From what will happen to me.

But then rage strikes like a bolt of lightning, infusing my limbs, making me forget all else.

Before I realize I’ve even moved, he’s flat on his back. I must have kicked him in the stomach.

“You bastard. You disgusting, pathetic, lying worm—” I hurt every inch of him I can get my hands on. It’s a good thing I dropped my ax when the venom took over, otherwise he might no longer have a head. As it is, I’ve knocked the wind out of him, so he’s unable to defend himself from my blows. His so-called friends just laugh at the display, but I don’t spare them a glance. I’m determined to have at Torrin until his own mother won’t be able to recognize him.

A strong set of arms yanks me back. “Rasmira!” my father shouts.

I try to pull against him. Torrin needs to suffer. He needs to be the one twitching on the ground while everyone watches.

“You will calm yourself, now!”

“He set me up,” I yell back. “I didn’t get bitten. It was him. All of them. They—”

He slaps me.

The shock is enough to distract me from my need to disfigure Torrin. My father has never struck me. He’s never needed to. I have always been his perfect child. His favorite. But as I look into his eyes now, I can see nothing but disappointment. Anger. Even hate. As though he is the one about to be sentenced to death in the wild.

I collect myself, breathing in and out slowly. This time, with no mania, I try to explain again, loudly for all to hear. “I was not bitten by one of the creatures. He clamped one of the severed head’s teeth onto my arm. They’re trying to get me banished. I swear it, Father.”

A group of the village elders stand behind my father. Edelmar, the oldest and wisest of them all, speaks up. “Can anyone confirm Rasmira’s story? Did anyone see?”

I look around, but I now realize the reason for Havard’s battle cry. He drew everyone’s attention to him, and Torrin was so close to me, he could have easily ruined me without anyone noticing.

My eyes land on my mother.

She saw.

I’d looked up and seen her watching me. I remember. She saw the whole thing. She can save my life.

“Mother?” I plead.

Uncertainty crosses her face for a moment. She has an important choice to make. One that could change her life and mine.

Finally, she says, “I cannot lie. The goddess forbids it. I won’t do it, not even for my own daughter. I saw nothing.”

Whatever hope I might have been clinging to vanishes. I vanish, blowing away on the next gentle breeze. My world has ended, and I can’t feel anything anymore. I am only a collection of thoughts.

The odds that nobody saw what truly happened are so slim, but no one would dare refute my mother. Not the village beauty. The wife of their leader. Not when they could use their knowledge of the truth to gain favor with her.

“Very well, then,” Father says. His voice is calculated, free of emotion. “Rasmira Bendrauggo, daughter of Torlhon, you are to be banished. You have until morning to prepare yourself for the wild. By that time, the council will decide your mattugr.”

* * *

IT REQUIRES ALL MY concentration just to put one foot in front of the other. Hundreds of eyes burn into my back. I can feel them even if I can’t see them judging me. When at last I step into my home, I allow my shoulders to slump, my head to fall.

I head for my bedroom. I need to pack.

I need to think.

I need to breathe.

My thoughts jumble together as I try to remember all the supplies I will need for the wild. Hides, food, candles, flint and pyrite, soap, water flask, blanket, whetstone, oil.

I crouch down to my knees to look under the bed for a leather pack to store it all. Instead my eyes land on the jewelry box.

Mother’s earrings are inside.

Before I even know what’s happening, the box is in my hands and I’m hurling it across the room. A scream fills my ears. My scream.

The box shatters as it hits the wall, and the light from my window flashes across the gemstones as they rain to the ground. I rip the ax from my back and let it clatter to the floor. I slam a fist into my feather-stuffed pillow. My eyes and nose burn.

I come apart where no one can see and no one can hear.

* * *

SOMETIME LATER, I lie in bed, staring at the rock ceiling. I’ve already finished filling my pack with provisions. There is nothing to do now but wait.

It seems as though my memory must be faulty. Some nightmare that I’ve confused with reality. But as I listen to the sounds of the village’s celebration, I remember that I’m not invited. I am not an adult like the rest of the warriors of my age group. I’m an outcast.

I hear the door to the house slam shut. A rush of footsteps. Then my door bursts open, Irrenia spilling in, her arms barely containing an assortment of objects.

“Sorry it’s taken me so long to come,” she says. “I had to grab a few things.” She sets everything on the floor and starts sifting through it. “Fever reducer,” she says, holding up a few leaves in a glass jar. “Pain reliever.” She raises a bottle of rosy pink liquid. “Muscle relaxant. This one wards off infection, and—”

“Irrenia.”

“Drink this one with water. It’ll make sure you get all the nutrients you need. Plants will likely be scarce out there.”

I stand and walk over to her, trying to still her frantic hands. “Irrenia.”

“No! You need to remember this. It’s important.”

“How can I possibly fit this all in my pack?”

“Take two packs.”

“I may be strong, but I also need to be able to walk.”

Her head snaps up. “This is no time to joke! You’re going to—going to—” She bursts into tears.

I have little desire to comfort her when I am the one being sent to my death, but I remember the right motions. I wrap my arms around her dainty figure. She’s beautiful like Mother. Out of all of us, I think she looks the most like her. How did she become Mother’s opposite in everything else?

She lets me hold her only for a few seconds before pushing me away. “Don’t do that. I should be comforting you. I’m horrible. I—I—I just stood there.”

“What do you mean?”

“All I had to do was say I saw that boy do it. It didn’t matter that I didn’t see anything. I still should have done it. For you.”

My heart seems to grow within my chest. “I don’t expect you to lie for me. You cannot jeopardize your soul, Irrenia.”

“I should have done it anyway. I would do anything for you. I just hesitated. I thought of myself first. I’m despicable. I—”

“That’s enough. You are the furthest thing from despicable. You are one of the only people in this village who truly cares for me. You are kind and good. Nothing in this world has made me happier than having you for a sister.”

Tears start to fall from her eyes again. “But it’s not fair. They set you up.”

“I know.”

She grabs one more thing off the ground. “All right, it might have been silly for me to bring so much, but you at least have to take this with you. It was your present for after the trial. And now—” She clears her throat. “Now that your trial is over, I can give it to you.”

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