Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Soft popping and hissing emanated from the hot coals. He felt the heat from them faintly on his knees and shins. Vena approached the fire, kneeling in front of it and using a small wooden paddle to arrange a space for the bread stone which sat just outside the fire pit. After a short time, she placed the stone into the coals and put the paddle down.
Turning, she moved toward Lakhoni. "Ready for some more ointment?"
Lakhoni met her eyes. "Yes." The sachet he had received in the Bonaha's hut the previous day had lost its potency. His lips throbbed in time to the beat of his heart.
"How are your knees and hands?"
He heard concern in her voice. He remembered her face covered in innocent blood. How could a person seem to be made up of two completely different people? Gimno's touch had been so gentle in treating Lakhoni's injuries, but then right after, back in the Bonaha's home, Gimno had undergone the process of becoming a halkeen. Which meant that he had murdered countless people and would now help the Bonaha—help the Bonaha do what? Sacrifice innocent children? Groom young warriors? What else did the Consecrated do? Apparently they still hunted, since Gimno had departed with the other men this morning, leaving Lakhoni behind to recover from his Grooming.
Lakhoni forced the thought out of his mind. "They're not terrible. I think they will be better in a few days."
Nodding, Vena went into her hut. Noises followed and soon she emerged with a small cloth packet. It glistened in her hand. "Take this. When Corzon returns from the hunt, we will have him treat you also."
Lakhoni nodded. And will Corzon, or Anor, or any of the others earn a tattoo today? The thought of the young boy, slaughtered, his blood used to paint the people of the Separated, sat heavily in him. Dropping his gaze to the glowing coals, he clenched his jaw at the anger that threatened to boil from his stomach to his heart. Frustration from being powerless to stop the boy's murder and powerless to run and find Alronna built in him again. It was as if the world was conspiring to make his family's death go unpunished and to let Alronna suffer at the hands of Lemal's dogs. He felt as if he could shatter the stone under him with one slam of his fist.
He took a deep breath. No. He had to focus on getting away. There would be time for rage later.
What was the point of the torture he had just undergone? He knew that to the Separated it was important, but Lakhoni just felt abused. He didn't feel purified. He wondered where the Separated had come up with their rituals and beliefs. How could the sacrifice of a young boy do them any good? And, thinking about it, how did destroying your knees, hands and mouth make you a good warrior? Being able to stand pain makes sense, but this was just stupid. Almost deliberately cruel.
He recalled getting a glimpse of hunger in the Bonaha's eyes as he described the ritual of grooming and purifying.
And how did such a small man gain control over all of these people?
Lakhoni considered what he knew about the beliefs of the Separated. They felt like they had been robbed or mistreated by King Lemal, for one thing. He guessed that many of them were survivors of attacks on their home villages. This would be a good reason to dislike King Lemal. But he had gathered that a lot of the people in the community had left Lemal's people by choice. Why would they do that? Lakhoni tried to guess at what would make people do such a thing, but his mind was still a little fuzzy from pain.
The Separated also thought they were supposed to reclaim some kind of birthright. He knew that the people of Lemal hated the Usurpers because of those younger brothers stealing the right to rule from the older brothers. Was this the birthright the Bonaha had talked about? He tried to remember what the man had said at the sacrifice of the little boy. Something about a prophesied leader coming from shadow. The leader would lead the Separated back into the light. And then something about an inheritance.
Was the inheritance the birthright that the Bonaha had talked about?
Was the Bonaha supposed to be that leader?
What was the point of the Consecrated?
Lakhoni sat on the stone ground, eyes focused on nothing, the cooling ointment tasting fresh and clean on his lips. He didn't know how long he sat there, but as the hunters began appearing in the circles, people's voices raised in greeting, a thought struck him. It doesn't matter. I'll heal. I'll learn and grow strong. I'll get out of here and find Alronna. A bright spark of anger warmed his soul. And justice will be met.
Corzon appeared in the circle, his incredible nose leading the way. Anor followed. They each carried a pair of rabbits. Anor also held one end of a long pole on which a cleaned buck hung by its legs. Gimno, body a deep red, held the other end. The tall man's tattoos could still be seen, but all through the red dye that covered his body now.
After a few minutes while women directed men in the arranging of the meat, Corzon approached Lakhoni. "Let me take a look."
Lakhoni nodded, lowering his hands.
"Open a little," Corzon said.
He felt as if his lips would split, but Lakhoni carefully parted them.
Corzon hummed to himself quietly as he examined Lakhoni. He removed the bandages on Lakhoni's hands and knees as well.
"Healing well. A couple more days and you'll be able to hunt again."
Lakhoni grunted in acknowledgement. And soon I'll get away from you people.
"Not that we'll be hunting for much longer. The season is turning. We could smell snow today," Corzon said.
Snow. Winter was coming fast. Would he have to wait until spring to get away?
The image of soft, white flakes flashed behind his eyes.
No. Winter would be perfect. He could leave on a day when the snow was falling. If he timed it well, the snow would cover his tracks. Then the Separated wouldn't be able to track him. And if they tried in spring, all sign of his passing should be gone by then.
He had to heal and learn fast. And he would turn that training against the Separated so that he could get away and finally search for Alronna. He would escape to Lemalihah, find the people who destroyed his village and family, and he would satisfy the justice that his heart craved.
Turn the training against them. They had taken him in, healed him and fed him. Will this be a betrayal? The question hung in his heart as Corzon bandaged his hands with soft leather.
Did it matter? How could leaving a people who murdered innocents and enjoyed cruelty be bad? Even if it was a betrayal, did it matter, really?
He pushed the thought away. It didn't matter. If he had to lie to get away and betray the training and trust of the Separated—he would do it.
He had no choice.