Kharke: The Way Back - Book 1: Seven
Chapter 1: Lighter Shades of White
Caution: This Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Teenagers, Magic, Fiction, Slow,
Desc: Sex Story: Chapter 1: Lighter Shades of White - 'Seven' chronicles the story of a young sorceress Anaka Djo'r as she confronts her power and discovers that she is part of a much larger prophecy. Long. You have to wait for the sex.
From Chapter Two, Book One of the Kharke, as translated from Telbayen...
"Then kiss me," he said, "for that is the only way." True shivers roared against the silent doorway; ancient stones riddled with verses fought to cry out and live again. They screamed a still inferno into their midst only to retreat in terror as her eyes met his.
Green eyes, defiantly brazen, matched his silver blue - for an eternity she fought his gaze, her green robes shriveling by the hour, her strength now a whisper around her waist.
He won, for she was but a goddess. And in that wicked night, when her screams became more than despair, he pressed her giving flesh against him, powerful in his victory.
Anaka slipped on the desert blue dress and stared at her reflection in the fickle stone, smiling. She was thinking about the night before her, an Awakening came only once in one's life and she had to look her best.
16 rains stared back at her. Her hair was a faint red, not nearly enough vigor in it to be called fiery, but enough to give her a decidedly auburn sheath. When combed and bristled, it settled nicely well below her shoulders but Anaka most always preferred to just button it up unordered.
Today, that was not to be. Her mother was behind her, holding a thick comb and was steadily and strongly combing through her hair. With each stroke, the hair seemed to settle down a bit, but there was something about her hair that seemed to always defy that comb.
The blue looked good on her. Anaka was tall for her age, taller than most boys and even taller than her father. The dress had to be specially made for her, but it was money well spent. It wrapped around her body with a quality that silk rarely achieves - a kind of ephemeral glow that was accorded only to the right wearer. Anaka, and her blue eyes and her steady gaze into her image, even the thin scar that ran in a lazy way on her right arm glowed with delicious youth.
Anaka herself was feeling pretty bubbly, though if she'd heard that term being used to describe her, she would have denied it hotly. She was merely excited and with justifiable reason. Even though her mother had forced her to sit, she turned this way and that in front of the mirror often looking at a single pimple that she hadn't quite grown out of.
Thisme, her brother was beside her. He was still a child, of only seven rains, but he had the makings of his father - strong, sure, silent, and authoritative.
Anaka too was a bit like her brother, but in her the qualities were not appreciated. A strong and authoritative girl was not seemly. In Umriel, boys were supposed to be like Thisme and girls were supposed to be anything other than what Anaka was. But her mother had done a very good job on her - the blue hue of the dress and her mother's strong warnings hid the Anaka within. Couched in the excitement of the moment, Anaka had forgotten to be defiant and now looked like any other girl in the village. Beautiful, nervous and trying hard to subdue a not so hidden excitement.
The Awakening was indeed something to be excited about. It was a ceremony that marked the coming of age. It began at dusk - when the red band of the twin suns went just over the horizon, accomplished drummers in the village would play out a definite staccato rhythm that would sing around in the suddenly still air and announce to the villages nearby that the ceremony has started. The Awakening was held every two rains - and it was a ceremony that the whole village participated in. Every boy and girl of the age of 16 rains was blessed by the Goddess and after the ceremony, they became men and women. Most of the men stayed back in the village and they were given a new hut. Some who had the blood of Shinza became explorers or hunters, nomads who traveled the entire Kharke - mercenaries in search of work or book-keepers forever wandering in search of knowledge.
Anaka couldn't become an explorer or a hunter. She would become a woman, and women could leave the village only if they were wed to a man in another village. She suppressed her rising anger and thought instead about the night before her.
She didn't know anything more about the Awakening. Two rains before, and twice two rains before, she had seen the ceremony as a child. The drums at dusk would quickly give way to colorful dancing - the parents of the children to be awakened would wear their best and would dance a furious dance to please the Goddess. Then as suddenly as they had started, the drums would cease and then Anaka and her parents would rush into their huts leaving only the parents and their children outside. Anaka hadn't seen any more and her mother wouldn't tell her anything more about it.
The light that was coming in through the brown translucent hut had been slowly decreasing. Anaka's mother Adfae'l, who stood behind her bore no resemblance to her daughter. Except for the height. She was a tall woman, but her height was hidden in a permanent slouch. She was the village medicine woman and hard work had taken a good toll on her youthful body. Anaka had been born late in her marriage - the result of countless prayers, remedies, offerings and rituals. And soon after Anaka, Thisme. Around her children she had a stern stance, never wavering in her decisions, never allowing her children more than the required amount of leeway, and never letting them out of her eyes when they were young. Perhaps it was protectiveness on her part, but as Anaka grew older, she began to resent the bonds placed around her. Anaka was one of the few children who started her jhartas when she was just four. At four, when she'd grown unmanageable around the house, Adfae'l had taken her to the village school-master - a strict wizened old man who'd taught the village since the eldest elder could remember. She'd hoped that his stick and his tongue would quickly put an end to Anaka's roguishness. But Anaka had endured the punishments and displayed a strange enthusiasm to learn that quickly grew into a strong desire inside her to best the rest of the children. When Anaka was just seven, the man told her that there was nothing else that he could teach her.
Anaka knew that to be a lie. She'd barely been taught the basics of the written language. And just the bare necessities of counting. The boys in another class were learning what seemed like esoteric mathematics. But she'd closed her mind to what she really want to say and walked out on the schoolteacher. Whenever she saw him again, she refused to clasp her hands and bow - a serious offense, but the schoolteacher ignored it - perhaps a strange feeling of wrongdoing making him look away.
Adfae'l didn't know what to do with her. In the village, a woman's virtues were her good looks (which thank the goddess, Anaka had in plenty) her submissiveness to elders, respect and her cooking. The last three qualities Anaka had no hope of ever cultivating. She was defiant to customs - ruthlessly so - forever challenging authority and asking questions where no one else - even the men - found any reason to talk. She'd been punished more times than Adfae'l could count. And after a while, about the time Anaka had her first blood, her defiance had stunted into a sullen nonchalance about her elders. She was a hard child to raise, particularly because she was born to not fit in anywhere. She was too beautiful - if that was a crime, too intelligent, too adventurous and too vengeful. Adfae'l would be glad when the ceremony would be over and she would hand Anaka out to a decent young man. Her good looks would glaze over any of her faults and would ensure that she would have a decent pick of suitors. And then there would only be Thisme - capable, lovable Thisme.
The one defining quality about Thisme was that everybody liked him. Everybody - from the harsh schoolteacher to the taunting elder boys couldn't but help but smile when Thisme was around. He was the only soul in the village that Anaka liked, loved. Though he was much younger, her brother had the same intelligence that made Anaka a pain to mold. They were most often always seen together, and they would talk and talk about everything under the sun. Boys were not to be seen talking with their sisters but when it came to Thisme, all the rules were relaxed. But Anaka didn't resent that fact - her love for her brother and her love for the time they spent together far over shadowed any ill feelings she had about the unequal treatment.
But that was only when it came to Thisme. The other boys, or for that matter the other girls were an entirely different matter. Anaka didn't want to do what the other girls did. She often ran away from the cooking classes and hid behind bushes and watched the boys receive instructions on fighting and the art of a bow. She missed so many of her classes that every one of her teachers - in cooking, handcrafts, manners and childrearing had expected her to fail her tests. Yet she'd passed and done so with brilliance. To her teachers, to her mother - indeed to the entire village, she was an enigma best forgotten.
Anaka's only friend among the girls was a slender and short girl called Aleen. They grew close only because Aleen had the guts once to hit back when Anaka had thrown a mango on her head. It was an incident long forgotten by the village, buried under many more of Anaka's exploits, but on that day they had fought like wild cubs in the mud. Both had gotten more than a few scratches and Anaka had promptly received a horrendous spanking that had made her wails heard over the entire village. Aleen hadn't escaped punishment either, but the incident instead of making them enemies had brought them closer. Aleen was Anaka's only friend. She was a popular girl, friends with the entire village, but all the other girls considered Anaka as something to abhor and even, hate. Anaka didn't mind that. For the most part of the day, she just wanted to be left alone.
The boys were aloof, and they were taught not to make friends with the girls. Whenever a group of boys rushed past - brandishing bows or herding sheep or running to attend their jharkas the group of girls around would giggle and whisper. Anaka thought that the other girls were the epitome of silliness. She would just spent the entire day reading - books that were at first stolen from the village library, and after that at her father's insistence lent out to her; she would remain immersed in her books suppressing the wish behind her blue eyes to stare right back at them and to stare them out. The boys seemed to sense this suppressed hostility about her, yet she was the one girl who received the most stares - mostly because of her red hair.
It was an oddity. No one had red hair in the village. Her mother's was an ashen black and her father's was a vivid shade of black. Her father had once told her that she was specially blessed by the Goddess. Red hair was a symbol of power. But to see it in a girl was... unusual.
Her father Hjgio was the one person in the village that Anaka respected. He was a man of words, of an unnerving wisdom and knowledge who was in his younger rains a nomad - one of the select few chosen to be the followers of Shinza. Though he was more than a capable fighter, her father had chosen the way of knowledge to honor Shinza. He was a respected man in the village, but in Umriel, nomads were feared more than they were respected and that led to a certain friction that prevented him from becoming an elder though he was more than capable. Hjgio had recognized the potential in her daughter early. But he had been unable to do anything to further her education. Umriel was a hard place to change, and to tell the elders that a woman could do something other than cook and feed and have babies was just a thimble short of blasphemy. But he had done everything in his power to teach her well. But childrearing was traditionally a domain of the mother and there wasn't much he could do to interfere that wouldn't go against the scriptures of the village. When Anaka had asked him once why her teacher didn't teach her more, he'd told her the truth.
That he didn't consider women worthy. That in Umriel, woman were just supposed to be child-bearers and home-keepers.
"What do you think, papa?" she'd asked quickly.
"They are wrong, little one," he said and then went on quickly before she could put in another question.
"They are wrong but there isn't much that I can do about it. There is your mother and you know what plans she has for you. If I had the chance, I would... I will never tell you to just forget about the world child, because I know you can't. Learn about everything that you can and you can ask me anything anytime. And never give up hope."
He'd looked down at her and smiled. She was in one of her rare quivering moods - when her lower lip would tremble just like she was going to cry. He picked her up and tried to change the topic.
"Do you know the name of our Goddess, Anaka?" he asked.
All her troubles were instantly forgotten.
The Goddess was always just the Goddess. From her earliest days she had heard the words interspersed in common conversation. "Praise the Goddess," "May the Goddess grant you eternal life and love." and so on in that vein. But she'd never sought out the name of the Goddess mainly because it was so taken for granted.
"No, what is it?" she asked.
"We don't know her name, little one," he said and she giggled thinking that it was another one of his pranks, "Ah, but do you want to know why?"
It was hard to get affirmatives out of this girl.
He smiled and began the story.
"Ten thousand thousand rains ago when the world was still young and the suns were still one, there..."
"How can the suns be one?"
He glared at her, "Do you want the story or not?"
"But how can the suns be one?"
"Questions later Anaka or I won't tell the story."
"Hrmphmmm," she muttered.
"So, where was I? Ten thousand thousand rains ago when the world was still young and the suns were still one..."
He looked down at her and she was smiling.
"There came a God to this world who saw the rusted barren surface and decided that such a prime world wouldn't just waste away. He decided that there should be life. But this God was a God of Gods, he was too powerful and too busy to create life..."
"... and so he made two younger Gods to take his place. One of the Gods was Shinza whom we honor today as a great explorer and wanderer. The other was our Goddess. They sowed the seeds of life on our world and soon all of Kharke was green. But there was no one to keep the Gods company, nothing to prove to them that their creation was worth the effort and soon they grew bored."
He glared at Anaka which made her shut up.
"So they decided to create us. In creating sentience, they gave Kharke a purpose and for a time they enjoyed the world that they had created. We were still young and we were still learning, but our Goddess and Shinza soon realized that we would one day learn enough to justify our creation.
"But it was a long period of waiting. And our world quickly grew so much so that it became impossible for our two Gods to help the world as before. So they decided that they should unite and create younger Gods to help the world. Their union was a strong one and the Gods that became were seven in number. Three female and four male. And for a time after the younger Gods had learnt their duties, all was well.
"But then all this time Shinza was restless. Just tending a small world didn't seem to justify his time. So one day, without telling the Goddess or his children, he ran away.
"Yes, ran away. The Goddess grieved, but deep inside her heart, she knew that the time would soon have come, and though she was sad she accepted her fate and continued to tend to the world that she had breathed life into. At the care of the younger gods and the Goddess herself, the world bloomed until all other worlds paled in comparison to Kharke.
"And then out of the void came Jhuhaii. Jhuhaii was a Demon lord - powerful and cruel and he found Kharke to be the perfect place to unleash his vile designs. His presence on this world was at first undetected but slowly the younger gods became corrupt and decadent and they began to demand more and more sacrifices to increase their power. The change was so insidious that it was many rains after our Goddess finally discovered that something was terribly wrong. She sought and immediately found Jhuhaii's handiwork. With all of the power that the God of Gods had blessed in her, our Goddess sought to defeat the demon.
"But he had grown too powerful. They fought a battle that raged for thousands of rains, but alas our Goddess found that the Demon could not be defeated. In the moment of her defeat, she blessed our world of Kharke with a curse."
"How can you bless with a curse?"
"The blessing was that in the moment of his victory, the Demon lord found that our Goddess had hidden the way to our world so that Kharke will forever be invisible from the countless other worlds in this Universe. The curse was that she had to make her people forget her to hide our world.
"Kharke had escaped from the Demon's clutches, but we had to forget our Goddess as well. It was a blessing and a terrible tragedy."
Hjgio looked at Anaka and found that she was staring down at the floor, thinking.
"And that is how we forgot our Goddess's name. When the younger gods realized what the Goddess had done, they sought to right the wrong, but they couldn't. Without the Goddess their powers were diminished and all they could do was await her return."
"Yes, little one?"
"Is this story true?"
Hjgio laughed. Trust Anaka to ask questions like that.
"It is a legend Anaka. It could very well be true."
"What about Shinza?"
"Nobody knows what happened to him."
"Yes, little one?"
"I'm feeling sleepy."
Hjgio laughed and twirled Anaka in the air.
"I love you, little one."
"I love you too Papa."
And then he carried her to her mother's hut. In Umriel, men and women stayed in separate huts even after their marriage. Children who hadn't yet been awakened and unwed women stayed at their mother's hut.
Anaka would spend the night dreaming out tales that her father would tell her. In the back of her mind, there would be the thought that one day very soon, she too would be awakened and then her days of subtle defiance would soon be over and soon she would be wed and would spend the rest of her days as any other woman in Umriel. She knew that it was in the back of Papa's mind too as he stared at her oddly sometimes, but there was nothing anybody could do about it.
The sudden explosion of drums terrified her. For a moment, she thought of leaving it all and running away. But she felt her mother's sure hand on her back and she slowly calmed herself.
Anaka had mixed feelings about the Awakening. It could very well mean that she would have to be a woman, but her father had told her that the Awakening would simply bring out what is hidden in a person. It seemed to be true because she hadn't ever heard a villager expressing a desire to be a hunter or a nomad. But then again, no woman had ever become a hunter or a nomad.
She took her mother's hand and clasped it behind her in the fashion in which she had been taught. Hjgio was waiting at the door of the hut. He saw the mix of confusion and excitement in Anaka's face and put a hand to her forehead.
"It will be as the Goddess wishes little one," he said and smiled.
She looked outside and saw that almost everybody who had to be Awakened had gathered outside. There were about twenty girls and an equal number of boys this rain. Since the Awakening was held only once in two rains, there were an equal number of boys and girls from the last rain who was seventeen but had yet to be Awakened. They were standing aloof from her group to another side of the clearing.
The preparations were enormous for a ceremony like the Awakening. The Harvest was another ceremony which came close but the strain that the Awakening put on the village's meager resources was sometimes a little too much to bear. That is why the Awakening was held only once every two rains. The whole of the center clearing where the elders usually met every three moons had been raised to a platform made of strong sturdy wood. It was obviously prepared to enact some sort of ceremony. All around that raised platform, the men and women of the village were crowded around, already starting their euphoric dance to the drums.
Anaka enjoyed the random rhythm of the drums and enjoyed dancing, but she had been warned sternly today that she was not to dance. She was to drink a cup of the Holy Water - which Adfae'l was bringing hastily - and sit with the girls, crossing her palms over her knees.
She drank the water quickly - her father had told her that the Holy Water was actually water mixed with a bit of a drug that would make her feel slightly more alert than usual. She then walked demurely to where the girls sat and sat down obediently crossing her palms over her knees. She was going to be a good girl today and it was mostly because of the love that she had for her papa. She'd promised him that she wouldn't disgrace his name today. And she wouldn't.
Anaka smiled when Aleen came and sat down beside her. Aleen was wearing a subdued pink dress and it made her look very pretty. Though she was a lot shorter than Anaka, the robe made her look appealingly tall and sinewy and it would help her to fetch a good husband. Anaka was glad for Aleen. Aleen's wishes were restricted to a good husband and handsome children. The Goddess was sure to grant her wish.
Aleen as always began talking. About the Awakening, about the cost her dress took to procure, about the other girls and their wishes, about the boys and something about the Goddess. Anaka was nervous enough that her replies were monosyllabic, and soon Aleen got tired of talking and they turned to watch the dance.
The dance was Umriel's way of letting it all go. All the desires, the passion, the silent sorrows and the rejoicings that the villagers hid they brought out through the dance. The wild booming of the drums, the close-chested bass of a tambo, and the furious timbre of a chorde would unite to an irresistible beat that would have the villagers moving around in a frenzy. Anaka concentrated on the rhythm for a little while and soon found that she was swaying to the drums.
As soon as it had started, the drums suddenly died off and the villagers froze in half-step. An absolute silence grazed the clearing and a lot of the men, women and children went back to their huts. Anaka's parents were one of the many who stayed behind. Every mother and father came and took their child with the mother to the left and the father to the right and the child held close in betweeb, and they took the children and walked them close to the center of the clearing.
Anaka felt her father kissing her right ear and her mother kissing her left ear and then they walked away, leaving her alone. She had asked Hjgio what would happen next, but he had smiled and said that nothing more could be said about the Awakening.
From that point on, they were truly alone. She was a little afraid, but that quickly became curiosity as she saw a movement on top of the wooden platform. From the shadows there came forward to the dim light a man wearing a thin faded blue coat.
Anaka heard a girl beside her gasp. Her breath caught in her throat. The man was... unusual, and in the light of the night sky, his blue toned skin glowed with a light of its own. His eyes were a pale white that glowed like the moon. His robe Anaka quickly recognized. It was like papa's old robes. This man too was a man of Shinza, but whether he was a knowledge-seeker or a knight was hard to say.
Quite suddenly, breaking the even tone of the silence of the night, the man began speaking. His voice was low and it resonated with the stillness of the night so that one had to strain to catch the words.
"My name is Andori. I am a priest of the Order of Shinza. Tonight is your night of Awakening. Tonight the Goddess will welcome you to new life - the life that you want, the life that you have been chosen to lead."
"This ceremony is simple. You will enter as children; you will leave as men and women. I will call your names one after the other. You will arise and come stand before me. After we have finished, I will whisper your trade in your ear. There is only one rule. Do not speak until you enter your hut.
"Your trade is your life. If you are assigned to be a wife, that is your life. If you are assigned to the Order of Shinza, that is your life. If you are assigned to herd, that is your life. If you refuse your trade, you have no life."
The man's eyes glowed in the dark. All the figures before him stood rigid against the dark. He smiled and took a paper out of his coat.
"Jalli Arul," he read off the first name.
It was a boy. One of the haughtier ever-active boys, forever teasing the girls and playing pranks on them. Tonight however, he was as frightened as anyone could be. His steps were slow and faltering as he climbed the platform. Anaka couldn't see much from where she was sitting. The boy on the platform had his back to her. He gave a sudden shiver, and Anaka saw the man bend and whisper something in the boy's ear. Anaka watched the boy descend the steps. He was happy and was walking at a strange gait towards the huts. He broke into a run when he was a respectable distance away.
This time it was a girl. And then another boy and so on. There was not much to be seen. Whatever was happening was happening in the span of a few thimbles and Anaka could find no way to discern what was happening in there. After the first twenty or so boys and girls, Anaka quickly became bored. There were still a sizable number of them still sitting and if her name was towards the last, there was still quite a while to go. She began a short prayer to the Goddess, praying that all her wishes would be granted. Just what those wishes were, even Anaka didn't exactly know.
It happened when she least expected it. She had just finished her prayer and was pondering what to do next when the silent voice carried over to her ear.
She was so startled that for a thimble she forgot what she was supposed to do. Then she sat up quickly and walked the way to the platform. Aleen, who was sitting a few rows in front of her pressed her right hand to her left shoulder - a universal symbol of good luck. It was a few steps up to where the man was standing. She went over and stood before him.
He was smiling.
"Are you Anaka?" he asked.
His voice had the same whispery quality but at close it had a soft musical note to it that made it beautiful. He spoke the tongue with a trace of an unknown accent and that added to its flavor.
"Yes," she said.
"Good. Are you afraid, Anaka?"
He brought a hand and placed it on her cheek. It was cold, but it was a soothing cold that made some of the tingle in her bones go away.
"Good. There are no short paths to the end, Anaka. You have to strive just as everybody and sometimes, harder. Now raise your right hand and hold it in front of you."
He had a bowl in his right hand. Inside the bowl was a strange liquid - sometimes blue and sometimes colorless depending upon the way it caught the dim light. He held Anaka's right hand with his left and then slowly whispered.
"This will hurt a bit."
Anaka felt a slight stinging pain in her index finger and found to her surprise that the man had somehow cut it just by his bare hand. Blood was flowing down her hand into his in drops. She stared at the man and saw that he was whispering something - something in an unknown language. The words were musical but gibberish to her ears. He brought the bowl towards her hand and slowly placed it below her finger. She saw a single drop of blood flowing down into the bowl. She saw it striking the surface of the strange liquid.
And for the merest of an instant, the world stopped all around her. It was as if she was alone with statues all around her. The silent breeze that was around her was no more. The eyes of the man before her were vapid and lifeless. At the very edges of her consciousness, beyond any semblance of conscious control, she sensed a power that defied any explanation. It was awesome, but the power was like a raging beast - there was no hope at all that she could comprehend it. For a tiniest thimble, it seemed like it was drawing close to her, but then the moment passed and she was left with her head pounding.
When she opened her eyes, the man before her was staring at her in open astonishment. Her headache made her a little dizzy, but it seemed like a long time before the man finally came back to the night at hand. He placed a hand on her shoulder and said in the same, even, quiet tone.
"Go to your hut and rest. We will talk in the morning."
Even in that quiet voice, there was something that told her that the Goddess had granted her wish after all. He leaned in and whispered her trade in her ear.
Her head was still buzzing, but when she came down from the platform, she saw the eyes of all the children on her. Everyone was more than a little afraid of her, and some looked to be still in shock. She saw that nobody had understood what had happened. And that, what happened to her was far from normal. Aleen's eyes were a mystery that she couldn't decipher with the pain in her temple.
She didn't have the faintest idea what to think. The hurt in her head was slowly growing and she quickened her steps making her way to the hut. Adfae'l and Hjgio were waiting at the door but Anaka was too tired to speak. She pushed them away and made way to her bed. She barely had the strength to remove her gown. She tumbled down and was asleep before her eyes closed.
A voice, whispered into her ear, oddly musical and strangely beautiful made its way into her dreams.
When Anaka awoke, her headache was all but gone. There was still the smallest remnants of it, especially when she put her hand to the sides of her forehead, but even that slight pain was quickly receding. She looked at the suns filtering in through the soft walls of the hut and realized that she'd slept through the night and most of the morning. That Adfae'l had allowed her to sleep that late was not a good sign.
Anaka quickly made her bed, washed her face with water that was always present in a jug to the side of her bed and made her way to the center of the hut. Huts in Umriel had a standard design. They were built in a random manner around a center clearing of the village. Since the scriptures required all men to have a separate hut, the number of huts in the village had grown through the years. But men's huts were generally small - just enough of a place for them to sleep and eat.
Women's huts - where the entirety of Umriel's domestic life took place - were larger. They were built by men with strong sturdy wood. A reasonably sized hut would take more than three eclipses and many strong hands to construct. Every hut had the same plan - a center which was just barren earth and around it a series of rooms constructed in a manner so that the clearing at the center would be completely covered - except at the top so that the Goddess would always have a way into the hut. Since the number of women's huts were smaller, more often that not more than a couple of women would share the same hut. Often, these women would be wives of brothers or cousins because the scriptures forbade a man to have close contact with any woman other than his wife. Men would often come to a woman's hut - but only at night and they were not permitted to stay the entire night. Of all the time Anaka had spent in the hut, she'd seen her father visiting only a handful of times.
Anaka's hut was larger than most. That was mostly because of the respect that her mother and her father commanded in the village. Her mother's herbs of healing and the ointments and leaves that she prepared for countless ailments were by the rule of the scriptures free to any person in the village. But her patients often expressed their pleasure in material means - and that had helped her mother stock her hut so that there was never a shortage of anything. Anaka, compared to other girls in the village lived in relative luxury.
The sight that greeted Anaka in the courtyard was a welcome one. The boundary of the center clearing was raised to make a thick fence of wood around it. Hjgio was sitting with her mother on top of the fence and they seemed to be talking. They stopped their whispers when Anaka rushed to her father's side.
He hugged her warmly and whispered into her ear, "Remember what I told you little one?"
Anaka remembered well. Being a woman was quite different than being a girl. A woman was not supposed to show any outward display of affection. She was not supposed to show pleasure, or displeasure. In the same breath Hjgio had told her that she could always hug her father. But she would accord respect to all elders - all elders - even the schoolteacher, her father had said - and would try not to talk in the presence of a man unless absolutely necessary. It was all part of being a woman, and if she didn't abide by the rules she could be punished severely. Now that she was not a child, her pranks, if any, would not be forgiven so lightly.
Anaka nodded in understanding. She wanted to ask her father a lot of questions about yesterday but she sensed that it would not be wise with her mother close by.
"Your mother has something to talk to you Anaka. I will not be long." He said and left through the door outside, leaving her alone with her mother.
Her mother stared at her, sighed once and then began.
"What happened yesterday, child?"
Anaka would rather have talked about this to her father. She knew that no matter what she'd say, her mother wouldn't understand.
"I don't know mother," she said.
"Don't lie to me child. What happened?" Her tone was stricter now with a trace of a threat.
"I... I don't know mother. The man in the blue robe cut my finger and a drop fell into the bowl. I... I don't remember what happened after that."
"Well, I'll tell you what happened." Her mother's tone was low and it had something in it that Anaka didn't like.
"You disgraced the entire family child, that's what happened!" She was shouting now and Anaka recognized the tirade that was to follow.
The first step was the insults - they would start at mere expletives but would rise in intensity until she was called a Devil's kin. And after that...
She felt the first blow to the side of her head, bringing the pain back in full force. The blow was powerful enough that it send Anaka sprawling to the ground. She recognized the stick in her mother's hands - it was the stick that had struck her countless times. But this time, the blows came with a savage violence about it that made her frightened. The searing pain waned in and out and Anaka cried out with every blow, tears flowing freely to the earth. The pain slowly increased in intensity until her tears slowly turned to whimpers and then she was begging her mother to stop.
The shout froze her mothers hand. It was her father's voice but it was distorted in so great an anger that it thundered against the wood of the hut.
"But my love..."
"Get out and don't call me that!"
This time her mother obeyed. Anaka opened an eye and watched as her mother slowly shuffled out of the door. Hjgio stayed at the door for a while, trying to rein in his anger.
"Anaka," he called.
"Anaka, come over here." His tone was light, but it had enough of anger in it to make it an order.
Anaka picked herself up and slowly walked up to her father. Her eyes were fixed on the floor.
Hjgio placed an arm on her daughter's shoulder.
"Anaka, look into my eyes," he said. When blue eyes met his own, he continued, "Anaka, you are not a child now. Never let your mother beat you again, do you understand?"
He hugged the silently sobbing body against his own.
"Never, do you understand Anaka? Never and promise me that you won't."
"I won't papa, I never will."
When her sobs had turned to light whimpers, Hjgio told her to take a bath and wash the cuts off her. He watched her walk away with steel in his eyes.
Hjgio walked out of the hut, his gait purposeful and determined. He had never known that Adfae'l had beaten the child so cruelly. A simple admonishment was another matter but to beat the child so! When he remembered Anaka's face, Hjgio had to crush his knuckles to avoid yelling out. This time, his patience with the village had been tested to too great a degree.
Hjgio was out searching for Adfae'l. She would be hiding somewhere in the village but she wouldn't escape his anger this time. He found her in the village courtyard with all the other women.
During the day, the clearing in the village was a place where the women gathered and talked the time away. It was a place where the men seldom ventured during the day because of the fact that women often took strength in numbers. Old crumbling women often had sharp tongues and there wasn't any fitting retort that a man could give to a clump of women.
So, it was to be defiance this time. Hjgio smiled. They had forgotten some things about him and he was more than willing to remind them. He walked towards the women. The younger women who sat at the outermost fringes scattered quickly when they saw his anger. His open defiance of the so long-followed unwritten rule surprised all the women and they moved away until he was at the center of the clearing. Adfae'l was there with the most tongue-withered of all the village women. Surrounding her, almost like a hen protects its chicks were the unrecognized but feared village hen-picks.
A woman, who was reputed to be the most defiant of them all, started speaking, "What brings you here, black hair?" The women around them giggled. Hjgio ignored them and instead sought out Adfae'l's eyes.
"Come with me," he said, "We need to talk."
"What is there to talk about black hair? Is it about last night's beddings? We could give you a lot of advice you know? Much much more than poor Adfa here." The women around them laughed and some at the back started hooting.
Hjgio smiled. It had been a long time in coming, but it was going to be a lot of fun. He raised a finger at the woman and something in his stance stilled the laughter around him. He said, "Shut up!" and a thin blue light appeared at the very tip of his finger. The women around him gasped.
"Shut up," he repeated, his voice soft and silent. The blue of his finger suddenly sparked towards the woman and she fell back, stunned and unmoving.
The silence that greeted him when he turned towards Adfae'l was one of stunned fright. The dark hair had called the power of Shinza to him! May the Goddess forgive our sins!
The same silence enveloped them as Adfae'l followed Hjgio back out of the clearing. For once, the village women were without a retort. Hjgio smiled as the crowd of women separated before him in fright. It had been necessary as any injustice could not be allowed to remain unpunished for long. He had broken one of the scriptures of Umriel, but necessity sometimes broke rules. He guided Adfae'l to his hut, the man's hut. A man would guide a woman to his hut only when he wanted to show his displeasure.
He could feel Adfae'l trembling beside him. Hjgio had never struck a woman in his life. Yet, at that moment, he was sorely tempted. What she did to Anaka, what she did to his child was unforgivable. And yet, more violence would just increase the sin.
He closed the door and asked her to sit on the bed. When he started speaking, his voice was surprisingly light.
"Adfa, do you know what you did today?"
Her reply was a mix of mumbles and sobs.
"Speak up woman!" Suddenly his tone was sharp, beckoning anger.
"I... I was just teaching her her place," she said in between sobs.
Hjgio's anger got the better of him.
"Teaching her her place? Goddess help me! Teaching her her place? Do you know who she is, woman? Do you know? Didn't you hear what Andori said? Have you no sense?"
His voice had steadily risen until the last few words were shouted out in a thundering crescendo that made the wood vibrate.
"Have you no sense?"
Adfae'l stared at her husband in shock. She had never seen him so angry. In fact, she had never heard him raise his voice. His whole body was shivering and the thin blue glow of Shinza around his figure seemed to brighten the whole hut. She realized that it would be better to stop speaking and let the moment pass.
Hjgio finally managed to rein in his anger. When he spoke again, his voice was of an even tenor.
"Adfa, listen to me. The girl is a sorceress." He heard a sudden uptake of breath from the bed and suddenly realized something.
"Are you afraid of the girl Adfa? By the demons, it is a blessing, woman. She is a child of the Goddess, it is a time for us to rejoice!"
Adfae'l could no longer remain silent. "What do you call a blessing Tranthek? Is spitting fire out of her hands a blessing? Is making everyone around her tremble a blessing?" she hissed, "Is shaming herself before countless men and countless vile demons just so that she can draw their blood a bless..."
Hjgio stared at his wife in shock. She had risen off the bed and was looking at him, madness in her eyes. One look into her eyes told him that she would never understand. He had to draw in a couple of breaths before he could speak again.
"My wife, for the first time in our marriage, I'm going to give you an order. You are not to speak in a raised voice to Anaka again. You are not to taunt or speak to the child about this matter again. You will not stand in the way of her future. Do you understand?"
The orders were spoken in a light tone, but his hands grew blue with the might of Shinza. Adfae'l stared in genuine fright at the expression on her husband's face. There could be no refusal.
"Yes," she said.
"Good. I have nothing more to say. Go back to your hut and prepare a good meal for noon. Andori will dine with us today."
Adfae'l stumbled out of the hut. Her whole marriage had been upturned in the span of a few arcs. She knew that whatever love that Hjgio had for her was forever lost. Their marriage would henceforth be only in name.
Hjgio watched her go and closed his mind to his wife. His thoughts were about Anaka. It was necessary to speak to Andori. There was much to decide.
Anaka had taken a bath in the river. There had been a few rules forbidding children from entering the river alone, but she was no longer a child. What her father had said took a little while to sink in, but she understood what he meant now. She was no longer a child, so she didn't have to obey anybody. But then she was a woman, which meant that everything any man said around her were orders. But then again, she wasn't any normal woman.
Anaka swam slowly towards the bank. Sorcerer. What did it mean? How could she, a mere child in one of the poorest villages of Kharke ever be a sorcerer? The word sounded good to her though - it evoked power and respect in all those who heard it. Anaka completed a silent prayer to the Goddess, thanking her for fulfilling her wish. Even the beatings couldn't dampen her moods today. She was a sorcerer and though she didn't know what that entailed, she was sure that it was much nicer than being a woman.
She dried herself and put on a fresh pair of clothes. Her reflection in the water still showed a prominent bruise on her forehead. But that was just on the outside, and that would soon fade.
Aleen found her on the way back. Curiously enough, she was a little hesitant to talk at first. Anaka didn't press her, they walked together silently for a while until Aleen blurted out suddenly.
"How did you do that yesterday?"
"Do what?" Anaka asked. What had she done yesterday?
"You know, the light thing."
"What light thing?"
Aleen stared at her.
"So you didn't do it?"
"Do what?" Sometimes Aleen could be so exasperating.
"So you don't know? Goddess, you gave everyone a fright yesterday. If you didn't do it, then it must have been that blue man."
"What happened Aleen?" Anaka asked, intensely curious.
"Well, it must have happened when the man cut you and blood flowed into the bowl hmm? But all that we saw, all that I saw was that a little while after you got beside that man a sudden burst of blue light spread from the platform in a circle and slowly went through the village. It was the most frightening thing that I've ever seen. I couldn't speak or scream for a long while, it had me so frightened. Anaka, are you listening?"
She had a distant expression on her face.
"Well, after the blue light went away, a long while later that you got down and ran away. We were all frightened, but the blue man went on as if nothing had happened. But we were all talking about it in the clearing before you woke up and Izra told me that her mother told her that nobody had ever seen anything like that ever before in Umriel and that it was an omen of very bad things to come."
Anaka suddenly quickened her pace. Aleen figured out what she had said and ran back after her.
"Anaka, I didn't say that, Izra did. And besides, after I'd got over the fright, I thought it was one of the most beautiful things that I'd ever seen. This is no time to get angry."
Anaka smiled at her friend. Yes, this was no reason to be angry and though Anaka couldn't make any sense out of what Aleen was saying, it was indeed interesting - something to be filed away in her head and something to ask papa about later.
"What else were they saying about me?" she asked.
"You know, the usual. But they seemed to be a bit frightened of you this time." Aleen said with a smile.
Anaka smiled. Yes she knew, but it had stopped bothering her a long while ago. Aleen continued on about the things that she'd heard about the Awakening yesterday, but Anaka paid only a half-ear to it. When she reached the hut, she declined Aleen's invitation to sit with the other girls. She wanted to see Hjgio.
Papa was not in the hut. But there was a note for her that told her that they'll meet at noon. Anaka went out with nothing to do till noon. She stared at the sky and saw that the suns had barely reached three-quarter past. There was still at least three high arcs to go before noon and she didn't have anything much to do.
After a little deliberation, she decided to go and watch the men train at the village armory. Umriel wasn't a border village and they hadn't seen a fight for more than a thousand rains, but village scriptures required that every man be capable of fighting. There weren't any qualified teachers - and neither were there any organized classes, but when they were bored the men would run down to a little hut at the outskirts of the village that they called the armory and mock-fight with each other. Sometimes, the fights would grow into brawls and would provide fuel for the daily women's rumors or a complaint at the meeting of the elders held every three moons. There were only a few men who really knew how to fight - her father among the best of them.
She ran towards the armory and to her surprise, she heard her father's voice as she neared the hut. Quickly, she moved to a much-earlier discovered hiding place. It was a large tree that provided shelter and hid her from eyes and yet, allowed her to see the building without straining.
The building was just an old run-down man's hut, but the ground in front of it was neatly cleared in a large circle where the two combatants usually squared off each other. To her delight, she saw Hjgio there. She had only seen him fight a few times but it was with envy that she watched the clean lines as her father dodged around staffs and swords and without drawing a strained breath, defeated every challenge.
She was so intent on her father that she didn't notice the other man that was also in the circle. She gasped when she saw him.
It was the same man who was at yesterday's Awakening. He didn't have the blue robe today and the light of the day, he was much different - though no less intimidating. The blue skin that glowed in the dark shined a metallic shine as the sun slowly hit him at angles. He was holding a thin sword and his stance told her that her father would have a serious challenge at his hands.
Hjgio's favorite weapon was his staff. It gave him a reach beyond all swords and it also gave him a much better sense of control as he could parry and attack at the same time.
When they started to spar, there were just a few villagers around. But news of the fight quickly spread and by the time he and Andori had traded a few feelers, the crowd had grown until all the men in the village had throbbed in to watch.
"Let us give them something to carry on about, Hjgio," Andori said, smiling. "What do you say, Hjgio?"
He didn't speak. He ignored all the people around him and instead concentrated on Andori's attack.
It came soon enough. He saw Andori rushing forward, the sword held at a light angle that he knew from experience would change deceptively. His strong staff met his sword at the blade and twisted it away and Hjgio smiled as he felt a long forgotten feeling of blood rushing to his veins coming back.
It was a thunderous display of skill that Umriel had never seen before. They moved with lightning speed and at the same time with an elegant grace that made it seem like they were dancing. Evading, attacking, parrying, thrusting, withdrawing, grunting as a staff went to a shoulder, wincing as a blade drew some blood. At the middle of the furious trade of blows, Andori suddenly jumped up in the air. Hjgio soon followed suit. The villagers stared at the scene open-mouthed. The men before them couldn't be human. Goddess! They jumped what seemed like ten hands in the air, and suddenly as the air rushed all around them, sword and staff equally met flesh.
Hjgio landed on his feet, but just barely. A long sword slash had wounded his chest and the injury wasn't a skin-wound. It was steadily dripping blood, but the villagers watched in shock as he seemed to shrug away his pain.
Andori wasn't so lucky. The staff had been true to his heart and he had landed hard on his back from the jump. He was having a lot of difficulty breathing. His breath came in small struggling gasps. In the middle of one wracking breath, he smiled. When he rose, it was with difficulty. He took his stance and faced off his opponent again.
"I yield," he said softly, yet audibly.
The villagers around the circle broke into a cheer. Hjgio may not be exactly liked by the villagers, but the mere fact that a child of Umriel had defeated a Priest of Shinza was something worth rejoicing. They crowded around Hjgio offering congratulations. Hjgio smiled and talked the small talk with them all but refused invitations for a drink and refused any help as to his injuries. Blood still dripped from his chest, but he seemed strangely unaware of the fact.
When the crowd thinned, Hjgio threw the staff away and walked towards Andori. He saw the Andori was slowly sheathing the sword. He smiled when he saw his friend.
"Well?" Hjgio asked.
"Why did you yield?" Hjgio asked, but he had a slight smile on his lips.
"Because one must know when one is beaten, my friend."
Hjgio smiled. And now, there was one other thing to do.
"Anaka!" he called.
Anaka started at the call. Her father was staring straight at the tree and somehow he had found out that she was there. It was not something to ponder over now, she had half wanted to rush to his side when she saw the blood on her father's chest. But by the Goddess, what a fight! This must be what one of the duels that she'd read about like. For the first time in her life, Anaka had a glimpse of a fight as it should be fought - not order-less sticks flying around haphazardly. And there was something more to it but Anaka couldn't put her finger to it.
She ran down and into the circle. Hjgio was still bleeding, but it seemed to have slowed down a lot.
"Papa, are you alright?"
He stared into her eyes and smiled. Anaka saw that he was far from angry - it was like he was pleased.
"Yes, little one, I am well." Hjgio moved so as to include Andori in the conversation.
"I hope you remember my friend, Andori."
The blue-skinned man smiled. His features seemed to be chisel-made for a serious persona. But as soon as he smiled, a hidden warmth revealed itself within him. Anaka decided immediately that she liked this man.
"May your suns be long and your moons fruitful, Master Andori," she said slowly, bowing with her hands clasped in front of her.
The man smiled. He said to Hjgio, still smiling, "I see that you have taught your daughters manners, my friend."
Anaka stared at the man and saw that there was a detail that she had missed last night. The man was tall - about two hands taller than she was. That would make him impressively taller than any person in the village. And she could tell that the man carried himself with a quiet assurance that she hadn't seen in any person before.
He walked towards Anaka and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Are you well, Anaka?"
Anaka was more than surprised. That was a formal greeting, a formal greeting between men. But Anaka had long ago studied the response.
She placed her right hand on his shoulder and said, "As well as the Goddess wishes, Master Andori."
The man smiled and suddenly his manner grew brisk.
"Call me Andori, child."
He turned to her father and said something in a language that Anaka didn't understand. Hjgio nodded, turned to Anaka and told her that they would meet again at noon.
They walked away, and Anaka knew that she must not follow. The sky told her that it was still about a high-arc till noon. She ran to the library to get a book.
Lunch was a quiet affair. Her mother who usually went on and on about some rumor or the other in the village was strangely quiet. There were three wraps on the floor and Anaka was surprised when she learnt that her father was to dine at her mother's hut and then she was doubly surprised when she understood that she was to dine with him.
Her father seemed strangely disinterested about her mother. For a while, the meal was spent in silence. When Andori began talking, she was again struck by the musical notes in his tongue.
"So Anaka, what do you like to do?"
She was not up to talk at first, but papa was here and he was smiling at her. Slowly, the man dragged out of her her exploits, the way of the village and the way Anaka rebelled against them. Instead of finding it all something to be shunned, Andori seemed to find it amusing. They all had a hearty laugh when Anaka described a day when her mother had woken up and found that half of her hair was dyed white.
But then Andori seemed to shrug off all humor. That was another thing that Anaka found surprising in the man. How could anyone switch so suddenly from one mood to the next?
Adfae'l had cleared away the dishes and after washing their hands and thanking the Goddess for the meal, they were now just sitting around the clearing in the hut.
"So, Anaka, do you know what being a Sorceress entails?"
Anaka shook her head.
"Well, that is the problem Anaka. You are obviously bright, but you have not been taught much. Umriel isn't the place for a budding sorcerer, especially if she is a girl. The Elders," Anaka was suddenly surprised by the vehemence in his voice, "think that the scripture is law. The scripture is only a guide and in binding women so they have broken the very spirit of the Goddess. Shinza doesn't adore people who defy the Goddess."
Andori looked at her and smiled.
"But you do not have to hear what I have to say to the Elders. The short and long is that you must leave Umriel."
Anaka didn't think she heard him right.
It was Hjgio who spoke this time. "Yes, my daughter. You must leave this village. Andori will teach you what it means to be blessed by the Goddess."
"But what about you?"
"My place as you very well know, little one, is with your mother."
"There are no buts," and for the first time, Hjgio's voice was sharp. "You must leave, Anaka. Leave so that you can come back strong."
"Anaka, come here."
Her father rose to hug her.
"I love you Anaka and this is what I want you to do. Will you do this for me?"
She felt the bond to her father grow stronger.
When she came out of his arms, Andori was smiling.
"Now that we have that settled, Anaka, you must prepare to leave. You will attend the meeting of the elders tonight. And we leave tomorrow. It will be a long journey and we'll travel on foot so you will have to carry your load. I expect no less of my disciple."
"Yes, Master Andori," she said.
"Andori," he reminded and without saying a word more, he walked out of the door.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. Hjgio spent a while with his daughter telling her of the ways of the world. He told her that she should always respect Andori and always obey him in all matters. She should love him as she loved her own father.
Anaka was silent for a long while and her father sensed that she wanted to be left alone.
She must prepare to leave. There wasn't anything much to prepare. She fetched a netch leather bag from the cellar and took out things that she wanted to make ready.
First, there were the clothes. Anaka preferred the clothes that she was wearing now. A soft but hardy leather vest that covered her upper body and a skirt that wrapped around her but not too tightly. She packed three pairs into the bag. She didn't know how long the journey would be - she could tell that it would be long - perhaps many rains, and there was no way she would fit the required amount of skirts into her bag anyway.
After that, came her weapons. Girls were expressly forbidden to even look at weapons, but Anaka had fashioned a sturdy bow from a strong thurru' that she'd found one day. The thurru' was a strong tree, strong as an ox - yet infinitely flexible. It took her a long while to get the carve right and Hjgio had helped out a lot but the bow that she produced was much finer than the bows that the boys in the village held. She had practiced in secret and secretly she knew that she was a much better mark than any boy in the village. Hjgio had given her a sword as a present when she was of ten rains. Her mother had glared but on that day, Hjgio had washed away all opposition. The sword and the bow she fit into her bag.
That and the dress that her parents had brought for her Awakening. She debated whether to carry it, but in the end she decided that such a pretty thing could not be abandoned. For jewelry, Anaka got out her favorite amulet. It was just a tiny gold nugget wrapped around a thread but Anaka had a strange attraction to it. She placed everything in the bag and couldn't find anything else to take.
The rest of the day she passed by reading a book. It was hard to concentrate, but luckily it was one of the more interesting books in the library (Anaka had read everything twice) and she managed to make it to night.
The moon was already up when Hjgio came and took her to the clearing. Andori was already there. Hjgio and Anaka squatted down in the clearing - a little bit away from the rest of the men.
Andori started speaking - his loud whispers carrying with a stillness through the night.
"I am a man of few words. What I have to say is a simple message. But since I have to make you understand, forgive me if I take a little of your time.
"I have to tell you three things here. The first; I am here with the authority of Shinza, at the authority of the Council. What I speak here is law, and if any man or woman care to challenge me, I would be happy to duel."
The sudden proclamation brought a series of gasps from the crowd. But everyone saw the steel in Andori's eyes and no one could get a word out. They just listened to him speak.
"Umriel has gone back from the ways of the Goddess." That brought out another gasp from the villagers. And this time, one of them couldn't contain his indignation.
"What are you talking about priest?" the man stood up and shook a fist.
"Silence!" In a few thimbles, Andori had grown from a smiling man to a towering presence that suddenly blotted out the moon. When the man had sat down as if struck, he smiled and continued speaking, as if nothing had happened.
"What I say here is law, and I say the Umriel must reform." The smile grew until it betrayed a trace of wickedness.
"Umriel will reform."
The clearing was silent for a while.
"Can anyone say what sex the Goddess is? She is a woman, and yet we worship her." That drew more gasps from the crowd.
"Perhaps, I should rephrase. She is a woman and because of that we worship her. Because she is the life-giver, because she brings green to dust, because she blesses us with a soul that is true and without evil, we worship her.
"Yet you disrespect what she created in her image. You think women are objects to be bought and sold. You are wrong. And you will reform.
"From this moon onwards, women and men will be treated as equals. It will be hard going at first - it will be difficult to imagine that you won't have a women to cook for you or receive your beatings at your pleasure. And I imagine it will be difficult for the women as well. As you will see from the next Awakening onwards, there will be many women who will take up roles as nomads and hunters. From this moment onwards, you will wipe the demons out of your lives.
"I am dissolving the village council." This time there were cries of incredulous disbelief.
"By the authority vested in me by the High Council, I call on Hjgio Djo'r to accept the post of chief." There were more gasps.
"The council, or what is left of it after I've weeded through it will merely advice the chief. He will have absolute authority over Umriel and you will listen to him as you have listened to me. Umriel will set an example for other villages to follow. And other villages will follow."
"The first order of business is over for today. If anyone has any objections, they are free to face me in duel."
Three strong thimbles passed. Not one soul spoke.
"Anaka Djo'r, come here."
Anaka was relishing the way Andori was manipulating the council. She rose and solemnly walked to his side.
"This is Anaka Djo'r, a sorceress."
Anaka saw that the men around them were in a state of permanent disbelief. After all of the shocks of the night, this didn't seem to be a revelation after all.
"Not a single soul among you understand what that means. And I'm not going to enlighten you. Someday, you will be taught and you will learn. But for now, you will take my word that she deserves respect."
Anaka stared at Andori in disbelief. Respect?
"Before I go, there is one more thing I have to say. I'm taking Anaka away from Andori tomorrow. In ages past, it has been a custom that a sorcerer must have a knight for protection. Unfortunately, there are no more knights, and capable men of arms are hard to find. So..."
"... I want a man, a young man to accompany us on our journey - A man that will swear to protect the sorceress from harm, a man that will be her constant companion."
"In other words, I need a man that I can train to be loyal to Shinza."
Anaka thought that there would be no end to the surprises. But in this, she was quite sure that there would be no volu...
"I will accompany you, priest."
The voice was of a man, but a decidedly young man and it was apparent that it took a great deal of courage for him to speak. He was standing to one corner of the gathering, but he was tall - almost as tall as Anaka. In the dim light, she couldn't make out who he was.
"What is your name, young one?" Andori asked, smiling.
"Zhrom. Zhrom Azidi, master priest. And I will be happy to serve the sorceress."
Anaka was surprised. Zhrom was one of the quietest boys. He rarely spoke and he was generally thought to be a bookworm, always poring around in the village library, a definite candidate for a knowledge-seeker. Anaka had seen him a few times there, but Zhrom had never even acknowledged her presence. To think that Zhrom would serve her... it had interesting possibilities. Anaka hid a smile.
"Ha, he is too young," breathed a elder in the council.
A huge roar of affirmatives went round the gathering, but Zhrom remained standing.
"Silence!" Andori roared, his voice a scythe through the noise.
"Zhrom Azidi, henceforth, you are a servant of Shinza, and you will serve and protect the sorceress from danger. From this moon, you will be known only as Zhrom.
"The council is settled. From tomorrow you will listen to Hjgio Djo'r in this council and you will obey him. That is all."
As the gathering slowly dissolved, Andori turned to Anaka.
"Run to your hut, Anaka, and sleep well. Tomorrow we travel, and it won't be an easy journey. May the Goddess grace your dreams."
And run she did, but not before she stole a glance at her father talking to Zhrom. As she neared her hut, she knew that she had a lot to think about today. She was a sorceress, she had a servant! And she was apprenticed to Andori. Tomorrow, she was leaving Umriel on a journey she was sure would span many rains. She had her wish granted, but what it would entail wouldn't be clear to her until many many more moons had passed.