[Story] Story a Week 27

[[ Yay I have wireless at the motel! Got in way later than I expected and had to type this on my clunky old laptop, but it’s done! ]]

Kamara slept fitfully through the morning, waking only to try to sleep again, but the stranger’s words would not leave her mind. Might he have heard word of Tamazi, far to the south? It was unlikely, but the last scent that Kamara found had been at the southern edge of the clan’s territory. She had no time for his fanciful tales of magic and wonder, but he may have seen something more useful. Kamara got to her feet and went to seek him out.

She found him with all of the other males, lounging beneath the broad shade of the tree near the lake. They were groggy with sleep, drunk on the sun and heat. The children sprawled at their sides and between their paws, some of them snoring lightly. A few males lifted their heads to watch her approach curiously — it was unusual enough to a huntress abroad in the middle of the day, to say nothing of seeking out the males at rest. Kamara knew that they had their feuds and alliances just as the hunters did; those claimed by the same tended to become very close. As did a daughter gain her mother’s standing in the clan, so too did a hunter’s chosen males — Nadira’s enjoyed the warm flat rock that overlooked the surrounding plains. The new stranger was yet unclaimed, and had no friends among his brothers yet. Kamara found him at the very edge of the shade, only his head and forepaws beneath it; his tail and hindquarters bore the full brunt of the midday sun. He watched expectantly as she approached.

“Good day, huntress,” he said, rising to greet her. The tuft of his tail twitched to and fro, betraying his interest. He thought that Kamara had come to speak to him — which she had, but not for the reason he expected. “You honor me with your presence. My name is Mardak. Would you care to hear a tale?”

Kamara’s eyes narrowed, appraising him. She did wish to speak, but not where the others might hear. She knew they thought of her search as foolish and fruitless, she had let them believe she had given it up, but she had not. She never would. Let them believe she wanted to claim this male instead. “Very well,” Kamara said. “But let us walk by the river, it is cooler there and we may speak privately.”

Mardak leapt to his feet eagerly, trotting through the long grass behind Kamara. “What sort of tale do you desire, huntress? I know many.” He had all the clumsy eagerness of a young male, but he was clearly old enough to have been claimed before. Had he been dismissed? Kamara’s clan marked males who had been disgraced so, but perhaps those in the south did not. “I have many other fine qualities as well,” Mardak continued. “I trained with the great Nizaar, do you know of him? His name is well known where I am from.”

“Mmm,” said Kamara, not listening at all. They had gone far enough away from the others. The water ran cool and clear beside them. “Tell me of the huntress, the one who did all of those things.”

“– and I have lovely– oh,” said Mardak. “You mean the one who has just appeared?”

Kamara nodded. “What is her name? What does she look like? Where is she from?”

Mardak looked pleased that she had taken such interest in his story. “I cannot tell you her name. No one knows it. They are all afraid to speak to her, lest she call lightning from the sky to strike them.” His golden eyes widened. “That really happened. I saw it myself. Well, I saw the place where the ground was scorched black from the lightning. The huntresses of the Black Feather clan saw it, though, and they told me.”

Kamara sighed. Such stories would not get her anywhere closer to finding Tamazi. Perhaps her feeling was wrong, after all. “She is a pale gold, the color of late summer grass beneath the Huntress’s Eye. She had an old scar on her shoulder, and newer ones over her face and sides. They couldn’t see her well. As for where she came from–” Mardak took in a deep breath. “No one can agree. Some said she came down from the north, others say she flew from the sky and some, well… some say she was sent by the Huntress herself. For what reason, no one is sure.”

Kamara listened, frowning. “When was she last seen?”

“Oh,” Mardak said, turning his ears back in thought. “Not long ago. No more than one time since the Eye opened, I would say.”

Could it be Tamazi? It was possible, it had to be. Kamara held tightly to the hope that her daughter might be alive. But it could also be someone else, or worse, simply a fanciful story. At her age, she should know better than to believe every tale spun by a male eager to impress a huntress.

“Well,” said Kamara, rising to her feet again. “Thank you for telling me.”

Mardak blinked. “Wait,” he said. “You’re leaving? You didn’t like the story?”

She shook her head. “It’s fine, just — not what I had hoped for.”

The stranger rose too, standing very near to Kamara. It was a brazen move, one that very well might have earned a rebuff from another huntress. But Kamara was too occupied with her grief to notice. “Then what had you hoped for?” he asked.

She had no reason to trust him, but Kamara let the words come out anyway. She had held them in for far too long. “I had hoped it might be my daughter,” she told him. “She has been missing now for a very long time. I think she went south.”

Mardak nodded, his jaw set in determination. “If I found her,” he asked, “Would you claim me?”

Kamara stared at him in astonishment. They must do things very differently in the south. Or maybe his boldness was what had caused him to be dismissed. “I will consider it,” she said at last. She did not want to make any promises she could not keep. But she would do anything possible to find Tamazi, or at least to learn what had become of her.

 

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