This is the second segment of a Fantasy novel I am working on. I hope you all enjoy it.
Copyright by Jonathan Scott Griffin
“Then there’s only one way to cure that,” he said before shortly taking off, the air whistling to a near screech because of his speed. After all these years, age hadn’t slowed him. He still soared over the land, even with a staff in hand. It was Arinthia who had to keep up.
She could hear each blade of grass pummeled under his feet, some blades sloshing and some crunching and some doing a little of both, depending on the amount of water they had received. The flapping noises of the tents against the light breeze and the crackling of the morning fires grew fainter as they neared the mile mark out of the tribe.
They were approaching over the Dead Plains; a misplaced name if there ever was one; considering they were far from dead, or being anywhere near the thresholds of death. Rather, the plains were living and breathing with all manner of life placed by the loving gods above. Soft thuds of insects echoed throughout the Dead Plains, accompanied to the thunderous tunes of the hooves of the mighty shagrits. Sometimes the mighty shagrit beasts snorted, causing the air to reverberate around their breath. Arinthia could slightly hear the shagrit’s fur crinkle when a small fly landed upon them. Aside from the shagrits, other animals could be heard nearby. From the ground, came a light but steady scratching, as the tiny claws of the little blue and red moles constructed their tunnels. Sharp teeth gritted, like a rocks being scraped against other rocks, about a quarter of a mile away. It was the ulyix’s getting ready to hunt their prey, the shagrits.
Arinthia chided herself. While her ears were too enraptured by the cacophony of nature, Jorgek had already found a suitable hiding place behind a boulder. The air whistled around the musical note of his bowstring as he slowly pulled it back. The first kill would be his. Not that his obtaining the first kill mattered in the scheme of things, but she and the old Xibian had a contest as to who could achieve the first kill. For a moment it look as if it would be his. But, as luck would have it, Jorgek, in his anticipation, didn’t pull the bow string back far enough and the arrow thudded just a couple of inches away from the shagrit’s hoof.
The rumble and dirt being kicked up from the lumbering beast indicated that it was running to the west. With no time to lose, she took a shot at the beast. Her arrow whistled through the air, singing of death, piercing her ears. But it found its mark. The shagrit fell to the earth. The beast’s heartbeat, still pounding like thunder, grew fainter and fainter until it was mere whisper, to whence it was no more.
“Looks like dinner is on me tonight,” boasted Arinthia.
“I let you have it,” snorted Jorgek. “Besides, I’m getting too old for hunting and cooking anyway.”
“And yet you were able to outrun me,” she pointed out to the old man.
“Is that so? No wonder I had no energy left for hunting.”
“Come, old friend,” Arinthia patted his shoulder. “I’m going to prepare you a dinner fit for a village chieftain, using only the finest herbs and spices.”
“Such as the kind you can get from the fields on any day,” he pointed out.
“You have no imagination,” laughed Arinthia.
“I’m afraid I burnt mine out many years ago,” he sighed.
“No matter, old man. Dinner is still on me.”
Back at the tribe’s encampment, Arinthia was greeted by the gossip of the women and the girls, and it was no wonder. She had blood on her from when she and Jorgek had carried down the large shagrit; something that was very unbecoming of a woman, both the hunting of an animal and the lifting of anything heavy. To further the indignation of the tribe, Arinthia had broken another code by not washing after she had cut up the pieces of meat to leave hanging out by her tent before cooking them. If a woman or a girl was to get herself dirty, she was to wash herself immediately, something Arinthia had always refused to do. It was bad enough when the women of the tribe got a speck of dirt on them, but to have specks of blood, that was blasphemy to the gods themselves.
Jorgek would have fended her from the malicious gossip and the outright verbal abuse, but he was incapacitated, having hurt his back helping to carry the strips of meat of the animal. Not that Arinthia minded being alone. She saw herself as far from being a damsel in distress. She could hold her own, particularly against the three primary instigators, even if they held important positions of power within the tribe. There was Zylin, a daughter of a high priest, Hymla, one of daughters of the chief’s advisors, and finally, conducting herself with the greatest of pomp and the greatest of self-aggrandizement, there was Kywal, the Chief’s daughter. Zylin and Hymla followed Kywal as though she were a goddess herself, worthy of their admiration and subjugation. Certainly the chief’s daughter did order them about, but in the end they found it worth it to be a part of the elite. There were numerous members of the tribe who they snubbed their noses at, but Arinthia was by the far the one they enjoyed showing their condescension to the most, and the reason was obvious. For at least the other women, even though they were of lower rank, still knew their place as women. But it stirred the hearts of Kywal, Zylin, and Hymla to anger that Arinthia couldn’t accept her place.
“Still acting beastly, I see,” Kywal’s voice grated like a spear piercing animal bone. “Really Arinthia, would it hurt you to exercise more feminine restraint and dignity?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Arinthia shrugged. “I had no one as an example to learn it from, least of all you three.”
The sounds of Kywal’s fists clenching, along with the rapid beating of her heart, collaborated together to produce a dissonance of rage. By the sounds of things, Arinthia knew that she had crossed a line, but she didn’t care. Though Kywal wanted to strike her, Arinthia knew that she wouldn’t. Even those at the top of the hierarchy had their code of honor that they were expected strictly to adhere to, for it was given by the gods themselves, and defiling it could invoke a great cursing.
“Ignore her,” Hymla implored Kywal. “She’s just a leech, hardly worth getting upset about.”
“Leach!” exclaimed Arinthia. “You must be mistaken Hymla. From what I understand, you three always leach after what your fathers provide. As for I, I provide for myself by my own hard work.”
“Such insolence!” shrieked Kywal. “Are you insinuating that we are idle?”
“I didn’t think it was much of an insinuation as it was a statement,” retorted Arinthia, not being one to miss the mark.
“I’m sure the gods will forgive you if you strike the smugness from her face,” Zylin goaded Kywal.
“Remember the precepts,” Hymla reminded her two friends in not so much a humble way, but piously, in the hopes that they would show Arinthia that they were every bit her superiors.
“You’re right,” said Arinthia, hoping to humor them with her false humility, though she knew it wasn’t very likely. “I am unworthy in your presence, and I could certainly cultivate a spirit of meekness in following the precept the gods have set before us, which, in my case, is learning to be more lady like.”
“I guess we can’t all grow up possessed with natural grace,” Kywal feigned pity. Her insincerity was evident enough, but if she would toy with Arinthia, Arinthia would toy with her. “Perhaps I was too hard on you,” the chief’s daughter continued. “Bad habits aren’t easy to break.”
“This is true,” said Arinthia. And unable to resist one last jab she added, “Just as many of us who have the unfortunate habit of spending our time in the company of spineless urchins who only tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to know.”
“Indeed,” huffed Kywal, as her two friends huffed in exact unison with her.
Kywal walked the opposite direction of Arinthia, Zylin and Hymla trailing behind her like two obedient canyon wolf pups.
Sadly, the gossip didn’t stop with those three. As Arinthia made her way back to her tent, the whispers flew through the air, stinging her ears like hornets. It went without saying that the other Xibians knew that whispering, no matter how low they tried to keep their voices, amounted to very little. Rather whispering was just considered a form of being polite within their culture. Why? Arinthia could never figure that out. There seemed to be something condescending about pretending to be polite when one could just be upfront. At least with honesty you didn’t have to worry about trying to conceal your heart rate. Yet, she didn’t care as much about the gossip circulating among the adults. For there’s was spoken to one another more in a voice of concern, instead of condemnation, for Arinthia, unlike how Kywal and her two lackeys spoke of her. Yet, a tribe devoid of gossip would be the ideal.
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