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Heros (Crows) Part 2
With my nails uncut the paint tapered to form feathers across my ribs. That was the way it was supposed to be. Warriors were not supposed to chop their nails down. The smoky gray weapons were a last defense if someone got too close. I set the bowl of remaining paint off to the side. I could not paint my back, stomach or chest until I had a mate. Only they had the right. I slipped past Everett in the hall to return to my room to fetch my crow fletched arrows and bow. I slid home a few blades in my sarong and harness, until finally I just had to tie my sword to my waist. I pulled the wicked blade out to make sure it was sharpened and cleaned properly.
“Leave the thing be. As if you don't know it isn't perfect, you spend every other day tending to it. The thing spends more time being cleaned and repaired than it does in battle.” Everett snapped. I frowned and yanked my boots on, tapping my toes on the floor to move them all the way down.
“Where is Raith?” His mate was with child, a few months gone, still a good hand full to go until the birth. He scowled and turned away.
“Should you not be with her?” The woman was kind but not nice, at least not to me. Still, she deserved the courtesy of her mate being with her.
“I refuse to see her; she thinks volunteering for this mission is the best choice you've made since you came. She has not learned to watch her tongue.” I smiled and patted his shoulder.
“You would not have it any other way though. And do not feel resentful, I would be worried if she was overly concerned for my well being. After all, her mate does spend half his day watching over me, worrying constantly. Besides, she is not the only one, you cannot believe that it will be accepted to have a Crow among Hawks, my kind are nothing like your own. We are not as fierce, or as loyal. They are being cautious, they are right to be so.” He scowled harder. Father placed his hand on my shoulder and sounded angry when he responded.
“You have only ever proven yourself since your coming; those who speak against you speak against most of us. If our kind is so loyal, they should have more faith in you.” I turned to gaze at father and instantly felt sorrowful. Since my coming, he had received more than enough shunning from some of his tribes people.
“Papa, allow me this, this choice. When I return you may be assured that I will not sacrifice so much for one thing.” He rubbed a gnarled calloused hand over his mouth and turned away. Everett slammed a closed fist against the wall in his fury. His eyes blazed with his fierce emotions.
“You cannot allow her to do this! She will die! Do you want that on your conscious?” He spat at father and instinctively I moved between them.
“Do you value your elders so little that you will treat them in such a manner?” I hissed, my eyes squinting in my lost anger. Father’s hand gripped my shoulder tightly and pulled me back.
“Do not think I cannot defend myself child.” His eyes shot to Everett. “And I already have things on my conscious I wish were never there. These are things you will acquire with time, and do not assume I am not thinking of every possible way I could keep her home. You are not the only one who cares for her well being-" There was a knock and we all turned to stare at the door. I was the one to move first, letting the councilors in to the hall. Only two entered, the rest standing on the steps.
“Are you ready?” I nodded and forcibly pulled my arrows and bow from my father’s fingers. He used all of his strength to keep them in his grasp, a childish attempt to keep me. I followed them outside. Idik stopped father and Everett from moving after us as we slipped into the darkness around us. Only Halik continued on with me as the rest of the councilors fell behind.
“Wait! At least let us say goodbye!” I heard father yell but the dark swallowed them up none the less. Halik peered over at me tentatively.
“We cannot allow the enemy know we are sending you out, they will see the group gathering. The others will move everyone into a home.” He fell silent. When we reach what I assumed was the farthest he could go, he took a hold of my arm, coloring his palm black in the process.
“Are you ready?” I nodded, not trusting my voice to remain steady. “You must sneak into a camp; steal a horse and rider as hard and fast as you can. Do not stop until you reach the Doves. Don’t even stop then, continue on to the Sparrows and then return home just as swiftly. We can cover for your absence for a few days, but nothing over a week. So keep mind of the days.” He stopped talking, looked me over and leaned down to press his lips to my forehead.
“Child, I pray to Merlin himself that you make it through. Be swift, fearless and strong. They cannot touch you.” He swept away with a flourish and I stared over the land I had to traverse. The valley between each set of trees was deep with only shallow grass for covering. I gulped, pressed a fist to my heart and crouched down to quickly move down the slope.
Half way there and I found myself pressed tight against the ground. My bow was strung over my shoulders and my quiver pressed against my hip. A sentry had called to another and I had dropped. The deathly silence in the village above me alerted me to the fact that my every move was being watched. I doubted they could really see me, but I knew they would try.
Tiny winged bugs in the hundreds crawled and flew among the short grass I crawled through. They decorated my face, crawling with tiny legs that tickled my eyelids, lips and nose. Licking my lips, a few were too slow and ended up pressed against the crown of my mouth. Reflexively I swallowed. I could see the sentries now, every few hundred feet, pacing back and forth with arrows already knocked. I couldn't kill them. That would alert the others that something was going down and they would signal for an attack on the village. I crawled on my stomach towards a space between two sentries; they would come within twenty feet of one another, nod and then turn away. Those twenty feet were my opening. A small one, but one I could not afford to give up. I shuffled along, pausing with my muscles tensed when they came within striking distance. Peering up through the bends of the grass, I could see the whites of both their eyes. How they did not see me I could only accredit to my heritage. I doubt that if I hadn't been a Crow, they couldn’t have overlooked me. I puffed out the air I had been holding and automatically cringed. A flock of birds sleeping nearby startled and took off in a great mass of flapping wings and fearful coo's. Both sentries turned to look and sped their way toward me. My heart thudded quickly. I needed a plan! I watched them approach the area with their bows raised and I fought to press myself further into the dirt. My skin itched but I ignored it. I had more important things to think about. Defensive strategies flipped through my mind at the speed of light. How could I take them both out quickly and quietly? I contemplated standing and running for it. I was not the fastest but I was by no means a slug. That idea was removed almost immediately. These were Vipers; they were definitely faster than me. One of the sentries' was so close to me that if I exhaled, my side would touch his foot. Surely he could see me!? I was caught! I waited for the alarm to sound up, to be hauled to my feet or shot. I held a flint rock in my finger tips, ready to burn the letter and myself if necessary, at once. Nothing happened. Sweat dotted my brow and the itching on my stomach grew. He may not have seen me yet, but if he took as much as a shuffled forward, he would be stepping on me. I decided now was the time to act. Fast as I could, I pulled a straight blade from my harness and jammed it into his ankle. He collapsed with a cry that was soon silence by another straight blade slammed into his temple. His dead eyes continued to stare, unaware what had even happened. The other sentry called after the fallen man in their native tongue and shuffled closer with his arrow pointed where the man had fallen. A screech and flap of wings saved me. Two hawks viciously gored the face of the man as I pushed to a crouch and slid off into the woods. I stood in the line of the trees to see who had come to my rescue. The two hawks took their last hits before gliding off into the sky. One screeched and dived only to bank and pull itself back up. Alidine and Aeruscus, father's and Everett's hawks. I pressed a fist to my chest knowing that they would receive punishment from the councilors for aiding me. Only at that point did I realize I was heaving for air from fright and adrenaline. The wounded man stumbled off, not knowing which direction to move too, blinded by the hawks’ sharp talons. The dead man lay slumped in an unidentifiable mass in the dark. He would not be found until sunrise. Without thinking, I turned and swiftly pushed on ignoring the burning rash spreading across any open skin. Finding and commandeering a horse was much easier than it should have been. It seemed that no one had been alerted when those birds had taken flight, nor when the sentry was attacked. What a self-confident people they were. Did they not fear an ambush? Or were they so confident that we would just surrender? Foolish people! The Hawks were a proud and hard-headed tribe; they would fight to the very last child. I whistled lightly and a dark figure formed from the night sky. Poe, my crow, cawed quietly to me as I preened his feathers lightly. I asked him where he had been hiding all day and he answered 'in the trees as I am known to do.' He was such a funny little thing. I then told him to fly to father, fly just above him if he was not able to land on him. It would be sign enough that I lived and passed through.
I was speeding through the forests before an hour had even passed from my leaving home. It had already felt like such a long time, but it would be longer still and I needed to move fast. The horse seemed eager to stretch its legs so I pushed it hard, disappearing into the night.
The Doves' tribe closest to the Hawks was pressed between two mountains. The humidity of the Hawks' home was sucked from my skin by the bitter chill of the mountains. My skin prickled and goose-flesh rose up. I pushed the horse onward. It tired now of running at such a demanding pace for the hours we had been moving, but I allowed it only a moments rest while I tried to find my bearings atop a tall tree. The horse and I trudged into the outskirts of the village and I was taken down within seconds. I did not struggle nor fight. They would only kill me if I did. Once the heavy man with his knee pressed between my shoulders stopped bending my arm back, I spoke slowly into the dirt. I knew little to nothing of their language, only the basic universal language. My arrows and bow were taken from me and they stripped me down. The icy wind whipped my skin violently and I shivered. I was yanked to my feet with my arms gripped tightly behind my back and marched through town. Two women met us at what I assume was a home. It was made of thick tree trunks and stones instead of wiry twigs, mud and grass. They took my arms but were much gentler, kinder even. Without speaking they dragged me into a room in the house, measured off-white shifts against me and when they found one they liked, they tugged it over my head. They then pressed a wet cloth to my face and scrubbed it viciously. I wasn't sure if I should be worried or thankful so I just kept quiet. They left me in the room right after and never returned.