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Threat of Tomorrow
“You’ll fight, then.” Raleigh’s voice was low and heavy. It dropped like lead against my chest. I glanced quickly over the rim of my mug. He was staring down at his own mug, which was engulfed in his huge hands.
“Yes.” I answered slowly.
He didn’t look up.
“Yes. I’ll fight.” I said louder.
“Well, that’s fine. Just fine.” His voice was loud and stale with false heartiness. He nodded at me, his eyes hard, before lifting his mug and taking a big swig. After he had drained it, he slammed the mug back on the table and leaned across the table, his face close to mine. I could feel his breath on my skin.
“So, you think you’re ready to face the horrors of battle, eh? Are you ready to kill living men? Are you prepared to take fathers away from their children, husbands away from their wives?” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Because that’s what a battle is all about. That is what you are trying to do.”
I hardened my face into a mask. I knew that even the slightest change in my expression would not pass unnoticed. But inside I was churning with something that I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge.
“And how do you wish me to respond to this?” I asked.
“However you will.”
“Then I will have you know that I will fight. I am prepared for whatever I am required to do. It is the way of my people. It is natural and right.”
“Natural and right. Huh.” He spat out. ‘Whose words are those?”
All this time his eyes had not left my face. They were not friendly. I squirmed inwardly.
“I’m not afraid.”
He laughed deep in his throat. It was a bitter laugh.
“I said I’m not.”
Still his gaze burned.
“Of course you aren’t.” His words were sarcastic; sharp and unfeeling. “Heaven forbid that a woman be scared when the men are. After all, isn’t that the duty of the women, to protect the men?”
“That’s not what I said.” My heart was crumbling inside my chest.
“Oh, but that’s what you meant. It’s what you’ve been brought up to believe. ”
“Raleigh, why are you…”
“You’ve been taught that women are just as strong as men, just as fit to represent their country in battle. You’ve been fed on lies. And you believed it.” His voice dropped dangerously. “But you don’t believe it any more, do you? You’re afraid.”
For an endless moment, I stared at him blindly. He had finally said what I myself couldn’t, and it hurt indescribably.
My mask crumbled. I dropped my head to the table, lest he should notice.
“Stop looking at me!” I gasped. “Please, Raleigh. Please.”
There was a heavy silence. For awhile, all I was aware of was my heart throbbing inside me. But gradually, the tavern noises began to reenter my awareness. Clanging mugs, loud laughter, creaking chairs, hissing lamps; all seemed to reach me from a distance, floating like dust around my head; dreamlike. My body felt too light, too adrift in the thick, smoky air. I began to think I would soon float away.
Then I felt a gentle weight on my head, pressing my hot forehead into the cool, solid table.
“I’m sorry, Adrienne.” Fingers were moving through my hair. “I’m sorry.”
I let the hand move comfortingly over my head. Anything to distract me from the newly released truth gnawing inside of me. I allowed myself to relax, the tension slowly leaving my body.
Then the hand slipped from my hair to my cheek. I sat up quickly. Raleigh jerked his hand back, his cheeks flushed.
“You’re not well.” He spoke abruptly. “You need your rest.” He stood up. Dazedly, I did the same. He slapped some coins on the table, seized my elbow, and started to steer me through the crammed tavern. Once I tripped on someone’s outstretched leg. Raleigh cursed as he caught me. His fingers were not gentle now.
“Why’d I ever bring you here?” He mumbled to himself as he shoved me down the aisle.
Finally, we were outside. Raleigh dropped my arm immediately and stepped away.
The stars were sharp as diamonds above us. We stood looking up into the untouchable sky. It looked like peace.
Standing there, perched on a moment, between the security of the past and the threat of tomorrow, I suddenly knew that this was no time to be alone. I knew that the future was too uncertain to face on one’s own.
I could hear Raleigh breathing jaggedly next to me. He exhaled; a shudder running through his breath. I reached for him, but it was too late. Just as I felt cloth beneath my fingers, he turned.
“Come on. Let’s go.” He turned and strode away. I scurried to keep up.
Before I knew it, I was standing at the entrance of my tent. Raleigh stood before me, sturdy and solid, enveloping me in his shadow. His eyes were sharp again.
“Are you really going to do it?”
I was silent.
“Are you? Tell me and I won’t ask again.”
“Are you sure?”
“Raleigh, you said you wouldn’t…”
“Right. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And he was gone.