Catalyst Moon: Exile (Part Six)

Intro

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Enjoy! 😊


ONE

            Atanar stood at the edge of the kulkri camp, hands bound behind his back while Sivoy and Tikaani argued a few paces away.

            “He ruined the ambush,” she was saying. “And tried to strangle me!”

            “In self-defense,” Atanar could not help but reply. He turned his cheek so that the afternoon sunlight fell upon what would surely be a nasty bruise. “And you–”

            She cut him off mid-sentence. “He’s dangerous, just like I said. Utu, don’t you see now why we must send him away?”

            Tikaani’s reply was quiet. “Atanar, what have you to say for yourself?”

            Sivoy crossed her arms before her chest with huff, but her grandfather ignored her and kept his gaze upon Atanar. It was tempting to lower his eyes, to sink into that shame, but Atanar kept his chin high. “I will tell you what I told Sivoy,” he said slowly, carefully. “Hunting Aredian merchants is a coward’s ploy. They are little more than children; no doubt young Corvac could best any of them in a fair fight.”

            “Hunting as we do is the way of our people,” Sivoy replied.

            Atanar shook his head. “Not my people. Not Canderi. There is no strength needed to snap twigs and saplings. A true warrior, a true Canderi, only faces foes who are at least an even match.”

            “By that logic, you would not hunt deer or rabbits,” Sivoy shot back. “Are you ‘true Canderi’ cannibals, then?”

            Heat flooded Atanar’s face, causing his bruised cheek to burn. “Hunting as you do is lazy and cruel. You may as well steal milk from the mouths of babes. What sort of example are you setting for Corvac and the other young people? What kind of pride can you lay claim to when your lives are full of theft and trickery?”

            She snorted. “Says the man who lays snares for rabbits and deer!”

            “It’s not the same thing.”

            “Isn’t it?”

            Tikaani raised his hand in a plea for silence. When Atanar and Sivoy looked at him, he rubbed the bridge of his nose before glancing at Atanar. “You laid hands on my granddaughter, on our leader. Some of the others are calling for your death.” Atanar opened his mouth to reply, but the elderly man cut him off with a glare reminiscent of Sivoy’s. “Your own family has cast you aside. While you live among our family, you must follow the lead of our samaat, or you will be tossed back into the storm.

            “And you,” Tikaani said to his granddaughter, who flinched. “You retaliated in anger. You acted violently and without judgment – do not try to argue, child. That is not the way of a proper samaat.

            While Atanar would have liked to take pleasure in Sivoy’s visible discomfort at Tikaani’s reprimand, he could only hear Tikaani’s words echoing in his mind. “Your own family has cast you aside.

            The elderly man sighed deeply. “Sivoy, you may be our samaat, but as the clan elder, I have some measure of authority. And I have claimed responsibility for you, Atanar. So, then, Sivoy,” she looked up at her name, “if you wish to kill Atanar for his transgression, you must kill me as well.”

            She blanched, then glared at Atanar. “You know I won’t do that, Utu.

            “So what will you do?”

            She was silent.

            Tikaani sighed again before withdrawing a small knife from a sheathe at his waist. With one deft move, he cut through Atanar’s bonds. Blood prickled Atanar’s hands and forearms to life as the elderly kulkri replaced his knife and looked between the two younger folks.

            “If we are to be a strong clan,” Tikaani said. “We must learn to work together for the greater good. Atanar is strange to our ways, Sivoy, but he has much to offer us – and you. Atanar, you have no other option than to remain with us; you must learn to appreciate our way of life. I think the two of you together would be like the strongest steel: able to withstand any foe. But you each must take care not to cut each other to pieces.” He straightened. “You are not to return to the main camp until you have reached an accord. Is that clear?”

            Atanar shot Sivoy a sideways glance. Surely as samaat, she would object to being ordered? But she only offered a quick bow in the Aredian fashion and a quiet, “Yes, Utu.

            Tikaani turned his pale eyes to Atanar, who spread his palms out to his sides in a proper Canderi gesture of assent. Tikaani nodded once before making his way back to the main body of the camp.

            Atanar and Sivoy were alone.

            The moment her grandfather was out of earshot, Sivoy muttered, “Ea’s tits!”

            “At least swear like a Canderi,” Atanar grumbled, rubbing feeling back into his wrists.

            “I’ll swear however I choose.” She glared at him again, but it was short-lived, for she sighed deeply and slumped against a nearby tree.

            Having nothing better to do, Atanar joined her. “What, exactly, does he expect us to do?”

            She startled him with a laugh. “Wed.”

            Pride and anger fled. Atanar gaped at her. “Wed? Us? Are you mad? Is he?”

            “That’s what he meant with all that ‘the two of you together’ talk,” Sivoy said. “Didn’t you understand?”

            Atanar groaned and closed his eyes. “Must have missed that.”

            “Well, I didn’t,” she said grimly. “He’s been after me to wed for years. I’ve managed to hold him off so far, but I knew, the minute you came to us, he’d bring it up again.”

            “Is that why he was so…eager to have me stay?”

            She sighed again. “Aye. Well, one of the reasons – at least the only obvious one to me. I can’t see that you’d have any other uses besides fathering fat, blond babies.”

            It was Atanar’s turn to laugh, and laugh he did. Unexpected, it bubbled up from some place within his belly and leaped out of his mouth, startling a pair of crows from their roost in the tree. When he glanced at Sivoy, she was frowning at him.

            “Why is that so funny?” she demanded.

            “Perhaps I could father babies,” he replied, still chuckling. “And in truth, I think I would like to be a father – one day, a very long time from now. But the act of fathering is not one I’m interested in…” He cleared his throat. “Well, with a woman.”

           Understanding flashed in her eyes, and a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “You prefer the company of men?”

            “Very much so.” He considered her again. “Not that you’re–”

            “Oh, shut up,” she replied, waving her hand. “Don’t pretend you like me or care what I think.”

            “I have no wish to insult you as a woman.”

            “Only as a hunter, a warrior, and leader.”

            Atanar sighed. “There are many reasons I would not be a good husband to you.” Or to anyone. He kept that thought to himself.

            She leaned her head back against the pine. When she spoke again, her voice was soft. “I would be a terrible wife to you.”

            “No doubt.”   

            He’d said the words without thinking and expected a retaliatory remark, at least a glare, but she only stared up at the needles of the pine tree they rested against. “Though I would like children, too, I have no wish for a husband.”

            The tone of her voice gave her away; within it, Atanar heard his own experience echoed. “You prefer women,” he said.

            She nodded. “Utu has said it is a feeling that will pass, but it’s not passed after eighteen summers. I see no signs of change.” She sighed again, heavily. “He only wants me to bear children and continue our clan. But…”

            The words died in the air between them, but Atanar understood. Too well, perhaps. His reply was slow and halting. “My mother felt the same way.” When Sivoy glanced at him in surprise, he grimaced. “She was the samaat of my clan. She is the one who named me vorunn.

            Sivoy’s face drained of all color. “But you said–”

            “Yes, I murdered innocents,” he said. “But I broke her heart long before that night.” Not until the words left his mouth did he realize their truth, nor the way they cut him to the quick.

            Neither spoke for several long moments until Sivoy exhaled and glanced back at him. “Corvac told me how he found you on the cliff. Did you want me to have you killed today?”

            No trouble to meet her gaze now; no difficulty to speak the truth. “There is nothing left for me in this world, Sivoy.”

            She looked away again. “And you call us cowards,” she muttered, shaking her head.

            “I never said I wasn’t one,” he replied.

            She grunted in what he imagined was reluctant humor before she turned so that she faced him, leaning her shoulder against the tree and crossing her arms before her chest. “So what happens now?”

            “You ask as if I have the answer.” When she did not reply, Atanar glanced away from her, letting his gaze fall across the bustlingcamp. More than a few kulkri looked away quickly, though a few continued to stare openly. No doubt word of the foiled hunt had spread like fractures on a frozen lake.

            Atanar considered a pair of kulkri tending to the horses before looking back at Sivoy. “You know,” he said carefully. “The Aredians do not share our people’s distaste for preferences such as yours and mine.”

            Her pale brows arched in surprise, though she schooled her face to disinterest almost immediately. “I’ve never cared what those soft folk think about anything. Why should I start now?”

            “There was a pair of traders my mother used to favor,” Atanar went on as if she’d not spoken. “Two women. They were married – to one another.” Sivoy sucked in a breath and Atanar felt a smile tug at his mouth. “They brought us some of the finest leather I’ve ever seen; soft as butter. Not to mention the chocolate…”         

            “Shock-ah-latt?” Sivoy stumbled over the foreign word.

            Atanar nodded. “It’s food. I think. Well, it tastes wonderful. It’s made from some sort of bean the Aredians grow in Greenhill Province.”

            “A bean?” Sivoy pulled a face. “We have no use for those here.”

            “Perhaps not,” he admitted. “But Aredians are quite inventive – as you’ve seen.” He gestured to the kulkri camp. “And many of them are eager to trade with us. Our steel is worth a great deal to them, as are the furs and meat we can easily hunt here.”

            She frowned. “Surely even Aredians can hunt for those things.”

            “Some of the hardier ones, perhaps. But most of them won’t travel this far north. And none of them would know what to do with an atsuula or caradoc.” He took a deep breath. “Have you ever considered trying to trade with them?” When she did not answer, he added, “Your family has much to offer.”

            “None of us can bend our tongues to their language,” she said at last, waving a hand in dismissal. “Besides, it’s too much trouble to gather items to trade when we can simply take what we wish.”

“I can speak enough Aredian to trade,” he replied. “My mother often called upon me to take on that responsibility. And as to your sort of hunting…”

            He fought back a surge of anger at the notion of the kulkri‘s methods; even so, he felt the stirrings of that foreign lust for blood within his heart. To counteract the feeling, he laced his hands together and dug his nails into his skin, letting the pain redirect his focus away from thoughts of violence. “How long can you sustain such a practice? Even Aredians have their limits. Eventually, they will come looking for the ones who’ve broken the Avalanche Truce.”

            “I’m not afraid of their paltry armies.”

            “Perhaps, but you don’t have the numbers necessary to face an army, even an Aredian one.”

            “Many other kulkri clans hunt as we do. We have friends among them.”

            “And you are all Canderi in the eyes of the Aredians. If one clan brings the branch down upon its own head, the rest of the tree will surely follow.” He allowed his words to sink in before adding, “My mother used to tell me that the most effective leaders often choose not to fight. They put their clan’s well-being above their pride.”

            Given Sivoy’s attitude toward him so far, such words were a gamble, but he didn’t have much to lose. If she ignored his counsel – as he expected she would – he would be no worse off. But if she listened, he could save her people a great deal of trouble.

            My people, too, he thought, but shook the notion away. He had no clan, nor family. Only vorunn.

            She was quiet for several heartbeats, her gaze resting on the other kulkri who milled about the camp. Just when Atanar could stand the silence no longer, she sighed. “How would we go about trading with the Aredians? They all but piss themselves when they see us coming.”

            He was startled at the strength of his relief, but tried – again – to keep his feelings from bleeding into his voice. “Gather items you wish to trade. Scout along the main roads until you see a caravan, then meet them in the open, with your swords thrust in the ground behind you and your goods spread on the ground at your feet. If they are willing to trade, they will approach. If not,” he could not suppress a smirk, “they will likely flee like rabbits.”

            She straightened. “You wish us to meet them unarmed?”

            “Not unarmed, just not actively armed. Your claymore should be within easy reach, but you should not meet them as if in combat. Such a tradition is passed down from the Avalanche Truce.”

            Sivoy shook her head. “What does that mean? What truce do you speak of?”

            Now he could not help his surprise, though he tried to conceal it when her eyes narrowed. “The Avalanche Truce is the reason your people are no longer at war with the Aredians. Nearly fifteen generations ago, the Aredians and the Canderi warred constantly – fighting over territory. One such battle took place,” he nodded toward the mountain peaks in the distance, “along what we now call the border between Aredia and Cander, at the end of a very harsh winter. Both armies gave their harshest battle cries, meant to strike fear in the hearts of their enemies and to show their own strength, and the very mountains trembled.

            “The leaders of each group—the general of the Aredian army and the samaat of the Canderi—rushed to face each other. When the two women met in the middle, the great battle ensued. But so fierce was the fighting that the mountains could not withstand the force of it, and began to collapse – an avalanche. Both leaders were injured and separated from their armies, and had to rely on each other to survive. During this—and no one knows the truth of how it played out—they managed to form a truce, though they resolved to kill each other when they returned to their armies.”

            As he spoke, Atanar noticed how a few of the kulkri, including Corvac and some of the other children, had crept closer to listen. He pretended not to see them and kept speaking.

            “Through their combined strength, they found their way back to the others and emerged on a peak high above the battleground. Looking down, they both saw how blood marred the snow, how the bodies of their people, on both sides, lay dead and dying. They realized they could not continue this war. Together, they went down to their armies, who paused their fighting to allow their leaders passage. When the two reached the center, they thrust their blades into the snow behind them, and faced one another in peace—if not quite friendship—and the truce was made.”

           Sivoy had been glancing between the others and Atanar, but when the tale ended, she frowned at him in earnest. “Is that true?”

            He spread his hands. “That is how it was told to me.”

            “Will it work?” Corvac spoke up from amidst a group of boys and girls about his age. “Will the Aredians understand we wish to trade?”

            “Surely they’ll just run away,” Kiluan said. Like the others, she’d come closer to hear the story, though Atanar did not miss how she sidled up to Sivoy.

            He shrugged. “That is how my clan traded with them in the past. I have seen some Aredians quail at the sight of us, but most are brave enough to at least approach.”

            Kiluan glanced at Sivoy. “This tactic would bring them within easy reach. We could–”

            “No,” Atanar snarled, causing both women to start. Vorunn clawed at his will, urging for blood, but he fought the feeling back and spoke with more control. “Attacking them after making an overture of peaceful trade would be an act of war.”

            “Assuming we left anyone alive to tell their little queen,” Sivoy replied.    

            Atanar balled his hands into fists. Why could they not see the folly of such actions? “Yes, and so you lure a merchant with the promise of peaceful trade, and kill him. Then you do the same again, and again, and again. But word will spread—you know it will, Sivoy—and the Aredians will come for you. All of you.”

            “How long would that take?” Kiluan shot back. “In the meantime, we’d have easy hunting. Winter will come eventually,” she added to Sivoy, who looked troubled.

            “It might take weeks, or months, or even longer,” Atanar replied. “But eventually, the Aredians will seek retribution for those you’ve killed.”

            Corvac gnawed on his lip. “I heard Aredians lock up their own people for no reason other than they have magic. I’ve heard they even kill those who bears a certain mark on their hand – they call it a ‘mage-mark.’”

            A few of the others murmured assent, but Sivoy rolled her eyes. “Those are just stories, Cor. There’s no such thing as magic.”

            Atanar had heard otherwise, but kept that thought to himself. Such stories were rumors, unsubstantiated and probably exaggerations from Aredians wishing to appear stronger to the Canderi, who had no magic among their kind. Although…if anyone could cleanse him of vorunn, it was probably a magic-user, though of course, he did not deserve such a boon.

            Sivoy frowned at her brother. “What are you doing eavesdropping, anyway? Get out of here, all of you,” she added, shooing them away. Kiluan gave her a questioning look; Sivoy hesitated, glanced at Atanar, then jerked her chin to the dark-haired woman in a silent order. When they were alone again, Sivoy faced Atanar once more. “Very well. We shall try to trade with them – once. You will speak for us. But do not forget that you are acting under my authority.”

            He spread his palms. “I understand, Samaat Sivoy.

            Her brows knit as she tried to find sarcasm in his reply, but he only regarded her without expression. It was a trick his mother had taught him well. Too well, perhaps, for Sivoy rolled her eyes and muttered something unflattering about him beneath her breath. Well. That was as good a dismissal as any, so Atanar turned to leave. However, she halted him in his tracks with his name. His name.

            When he turned, she was studying him. “Before,” she said quietly. “When you grabbed my neck…”    He grimaced. “I am sorry if I hurt you, but you–”

            “No, not that.” She hesitated, then dropped her pitch again. “Your eyes were…strange.”

            Something cold formed in his guts. “Strange, how?”

            “It might’ve been a trick of the sun,” she said, brows knitted. “But I swear they…shone. Like stars. Just for a moment. Just when you were looking at me, with your hands at my throat.”

            Just when you tried to kill me. She didn’t have to say it out loud; they both knew. Atanar felt as though he stood naked on the tundra, in the first moments before a blizzard descended. “You’re certain?”

            “I know what I saw.”

            Vorunn. He didn’t know how, why, or what it meant, but he knew the two were related. “If you see it again,” his eyes darted to her claymore but he only said, “let me know.”

            Sivoy nodded again, then turned away from him. Atanar remained beneath the tree, alone, and did not return to the main camp until dusk.


Next time: But perhaps a simple trade would be a good start, a way to foster trust on both sides and allow the kulkri to see that profit was possible without bloodshed.

I may still turn this into a published novel. (With more editing, cover art, etc.) But I’m still not sure. Thoughts?

Book Four cover reveal and launch date!

Hi there!

What a year it’s been already. I’m settling into the groove of my full-time author/editor gig. (BTW, I still have slots open if you need editing work! Message me at lauren@laloga.com or see this page for more info.)

I’m beyond thrilled to announce that Catalyst Moon: Surrender (Book Four) will be released on April 25, 2020!!! This book has been a journey for me, (aren’t they all? 😉), and it’s wonderful, if surreal, to be announcing its release.

Couple notes:

I’d like to try Amazon’s pre-order function, so I might be putting the book up for pre-order soon. I’ll keep you posted!

I will be releasing a sneak peek of the AMAZING cover art to the Catalyst Moon Collective (the Facebook group) before sharing it with everyone else, so please join the Facebook group fun to catch that first glimpse! 😍 I’ll share the cover here and on my social media sometime in April. Gotta bang that hype drum!

That’s all for now. Look for another installment of Exile, along with a link to more free books!

Thanks, and stay awesome! 💜

Lauren

2020 update & resources for indie authors

Howdy!

I hope your 2020 is off to a fabulous start. Mine certainly is. My last day of work with my former employer has passed, so I am completely freelance. That’s right, I am a FULL TIME author now!!! 🎉🤩🎉🥰🚀

I’m thrilled to finally be able to focus 100% of my efforts to my writing and editing career. It’s a daunting task, to be sure, but I have the full support of my amazing husband.

This decision was not made quickly or lightly. It’s still difficult to discuss the details, but suffice it to say that our family suffered a tragic loss last year, one that spurred my husband and I to make some big life changes. 2019 was a time of massive upheaval, but I think – I hope – things are settling down now. My bearded half and I are devoted to our new endeavors, and although more change is definitely on the horizon, our hope is that we’ll be able to meet it with smiles on our faces.

SO! What does this mean for the Catalyst Moon series? Well, only good things, as far as I can tell. I’ve been able to spend a ton of time editing book 4, and it’s still on track for a Spring 2020 release. I’m thinking late April or early May.

If you’re interested in being an ARC reader (ie: getting an advanced copy of the book to check for typos/errors, and also leaving a review once it’s live), then please drop me a line: lauren@laloga.com

(If you’ve been an ARC reader in the past, I’ll be in touch soon! 😁)

If you or anyone you know has any editing needs (I prefer to edit genre fiction, but am open to anything!), check out my info page here: https://laloga.com/author-services Or just contact me at: lauren@laloga.com

Other goals include but are not limited to:

  • more informative blog posts about writing, story craft, editing, indie publishing, etc.
  • more posts with actual fiction/story content
  • more/better marketing for Catalyst Moon
  • writing stuff OTHER than Catalyst Moon (I love it, but sometimes I just wanna write fluff)

Is there anything you’d like to see on my blog? Let me know! 😊

Okay, on to the resources. These are a few of the valuable websites and tools I’ve discovered on my indie publishing journey. I hope you find them useful!

In no particular order:

Evernote: I use this for taking notes, as it syncs across my various devices and is SUPER easy to navigate. I like the free version just fine, but they have various tiers.

Reedsy: Holy cats, formatting my books was a HUGE headache until I discovered Reedsy. They have a formatting tool that’s quite basic, but the end result is clean and professional. Plus it’s easy for an Elder Millennial like me to navigate so 👍👍👍 They also have a ton of listings for editors, graphic designers, and a slew of other professionals.

BookFunnel: I’ve been trying to grow my email list and thus my readership, but Facebook ads just weren’t cutting it. Another indie author turned me on to BookFunnel, and I haven’t looked back. It’s a little cumbersome to get the hang of, but I have managed to get a bunch of new email subscribers (howdy, y’all!) and hopefully turn some of them into readers. You do have to pay for this service, but so far I’m quite pleased.

NotebookAI: Okay this is one I’m not using a TON right now, but I think it will be useful when I start planning the next series in earnest. It’s a way to organize worldbuilding ideas (settings, characters, etc.) and seems fairly intuitive. The free version has been A-OK for my purposes.

Pixabay: Great resource for free images you can use in ads, blog posts, or wherever. Easy to use, plus they have a decent selection.

Wonderdraft: This inexpensive map making program has a bit of a learning curve, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. If you’re creating worlds, I think this is worth looking into. In addition to creating maps for fantasy novels, a lot of folks use it for role playing games. 🤩

Fiction University: This blog by author Janice Hardy is FULL of amazing information about all things writing and publishing. I’ve come across a lot of writing advice in my time, but much of it sounds the same. Hardy actually gives new info (new to me, anyway) and troubleshooting tips, plus she assesses other folks’ writing on the blog itself (with the author’s permission), so we can all see what works, what doesn’t, and most importantly, WHY.

Helping Writers Become Authors: Another blog, this one by K.M. Weiland. Like Fiction University, this one is also full of great tips, tricks, and actionable writing/story crafting advice. Weiland also likes to break down popular books and movies (like her Marvel Storytelling series), which is super helpful when one is studying story theory.

The Creative Penn: Chances are my fellow scribblers have heard of Joanna Penn, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention her here. Talk about a treasure trove of information! Joanna is an indie publishing goddess who has over a decade of podcasts, blogs, interviews, books on craft, and more available on her site. Seriously, she is amazing and I cannot recommend her enough!

Okay, that’s it for now. I have ideas of creating a music-themed post, wherein I share my favorite playlists to write to, plus the various Catalyst Moon playlists I’ve created. (Yes, there’s one for each book. 😁)

Take care and stay awesome,

Lauren

Catalyst Moon: Exile (Part Five)

Happy 2020 everyone! I hope your year is off to a great start. 🥰 I’ll have some updates/news soon, but for now, please enjoy the next installment of Atanar’s journey.

About Exile. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.


Five

            “There you are,” Sivoy said as Atanar and Corvac approached her at the edge of the kulkri camp. “What took you so long? We’ve been waiting.”

           To Atanar’s consternation, Corvac swore and darted off to the main body of the camp. Atanar, meanwhile, glanced at the dozen horses, outfitted with Aredian tack and weapons, while their riders tended to last-minute adjustments. “For me?”

            Sivoy tightened her horse’s girth and frowned at Atanar, all at the same time. A skilled woman.  She nodded to a nearby horse, a chestnut. “Aye. Time to prove your worth, warrior.”

            Atanar had ridden horses before, but not often. In principle, though, the Aredian beasts were quite similar to the huge elk atsuula that served as pack animals to the Canderi. The chestnut was equipped like the others, except in place of a bladed weapon, a length of rope with several stones affixed to the end was tied to the saddle. Atanar examined the kuvlu, ensuring that the knots around the stones were tight and there were no tangles in the rope. The weapon was well-made and sturdy, though he could not help the wistful feeling as he glanced at the others’ swords.

            “I’ve not used one of these in some time – the horse and the kuvlu.” He glanced at the kulkri samaat. “I suppose I should thank you.”

            She narrowed her eyes. “Get ready to ride out.”

            As she turned to the others, Corvac came trotting up, dragging the reins of a reluctant atsuula behind him. “Wait for me,” he called to his sister as the others began to mount. “I just need to–”

            “No,” Sivoy interrupted as she swung into her saddle. “I’ve told you, you’re too young. You’re not ready.”

            “I’m thirteen summers! Ea’s tits…I’m ready.” He pointed to Atanar. “We hunted all morning.”

            “Corvac speaks truly,” Atanar said. “He has some work to do before he’s skilled enough to go out on his own, but I don’t see why he couldn’t come with us now.”     

            The look Sivoy gave Atanar could have curdled milk. “Your word means nothing, vorunn,” she replied, then looked at her brother again. “My word is what matters, and I say it’s too dangerous, and you’re too young. Perhaps when summer comes, you’ll be ready.”

            “But–”

            “Enough, Cor. I won’t speak of it any longer. You will stay here.”

            With that, she turned her horse and made to join the others, waiting at the edge of the kulkri camp. As Atanar swung into his saddle, Corvac said his name. When he looked, the boy’s eyes were pleading.

            Ancestor’s blood, Atanar thought with a sigh. He shook his head, then guided his horse after Sivoy’s. There was no time to speak, though, for the moment he joined the group, the other riders urged their mounts into the forest.

*

            They traveled at a steady clip down the mountainside, until the sun had crossed its peak. When Sivoy held up a hand in silent signal, the riders halted at the topmost edge of a sloping valley, where conifers obscured either side and boulders lined a messy pathway through the road below. On closer inspection, the pathway was churned with mud and slush, and riddled with prints. This far south, there were no atsuula prints. What hoof prints Atanar could make out were those of horses and oxen; only tame creatures used by Aredians.

            Unease flickered low in his belly and that strange otherness stirred in the back of his mind, but he tried to ignore both feelings.          

            The kulkri drew close to Sivoy, she gestured to the other side of the valley.  “Aupti. Tartok. Kilaun; make sure they’ll have no opportunity to flee once we ambush. The rest of you know what to do. Atanar,” she sighed deeply, “you’re with me.”

            As the other riders spread through the valley, Atanar shook his head. “I don’t understand. What are you hunting here?”

            The smile she gave him held no warmth. “Ready your weapon, and try to keep up.”

            Atanar had hunted his entire life, but never like this. The kulkri were adept at hiding; their mounts were so well-trained that none gave so much as a snort when the Aredian caravan approached. Compared to the Aredian merchants Atanar had met, this was not a large procession. Six armed figures on horseback flanked three wagons, all of which were laden with boxes and crates. Two non-armored Aredians, perhaps the merchants, rode horses between the second and third wagons.

            Frowning, Atanar glanced at Sivoy, who’d drawn her bow and arrow. “What are you–”

            She ignored him as she aimed her weapon, and ice filled his veins with his sudden comprehension. Atanar didn’t think. The instant before she let the arrow loose, he urged his mount close to hers so that the creatures’ shoulders bumped into one another. Sivoy’s arrow flew from the bow and landed with an audible thwack in the side of the first wagon, next to the driver, who jerked upright. Immediately, the Aredians began shouting to one another as the guards formed a defensive perimeter around their charges.  

            Sivoy swore and grabbed another arrow. “Damn you, vorunn,” she hissed. Before Atanar could reply, she called to the others, “Now!”

            The kulkri descended swifter than an avalanche. Perhaps in the Aredians’ own eyes, they were outfitted for battle, but they looked so small and weak beside the Canderi who fell upon them with arrows and blades. Within moments, the kulkri had cut down both merchants and two of the guards. Atanar kept his horse away from the carnage, but he could not stop the smell of blood from reaching him, nor could his racing heart drown out the cries of the falling Aredians. And within his mind, vorunn stirred again. Like some creature roused from hibernation, the strange otherness crept to the surface and peered out through his eyes. It liked what it found.

            Kill them! Kill them all!

            Atanar’s vision washed with red. Yes, he thought, reaching for his weapon. They all must die…

            But the moment his hand brushed the kuvlu’s rope instead of a steel sword hilt, he snapped out of his haze. “No!” he shouted.

            Gritting his teeth, he shook his head, desperate to get rid of the other presence, the foreign will. In an act of defiance, he tossed the rope and stones at the feet of Tartok’s horse, enough to send the beast skittering away from the wagon driver, who was trying to calm his horses. Tartok’s mount crashed into Kiluan’s, momentarily disabling both kulkri women. The moment of respite was apparently enough for the Aredian driver to urge the horses onward, away from the chaos of battle and Sivoy’s arrows. The remaining riders and the other two wagons followed, until the only sounds were the horses’ labored breathing and the fading rumble of wheels and axles.

            In truth, Atanar barely paid the fleeing Aredians any mind, for his vision swam and his heart raced, and the impulse to kill still beat through his blood. He tried to hold the desire in check with deep, calming breaths.

            Until Sivoy whirled her horse so that she was right beside Atanar’s, and slammed her bow against his cheek. Pain exploded through each nerve; his jaw rattled and he bit his tongue involuntarily. Stars pricked his vision and he tasted copper. On the heels of pain and blood and confusion, anger swelled again, and Atanar truly forgot himself. Someone roared in fury and the next thing he knew, he knelt over Sivoy, his knees braced against the cold ground with his hands around her throat. Their eyes met. Hers were blue, like his, but wide and pale with fear, as if illuminated by moonlight even though it was midday.

            Vorunn spoke in his ear, Kill her. Now.

            “No,” Atanar whispered. He closed his eyes against her gaze, dropped his hands to either side of her slender neck, and sagged.

            Only when Aupti and Tartokpulled him off her could he think clearly again. The two kulkri held him in place as the six others stood between Atanar and Sivoy. For a moment, he and the samaat only stared at each other, each panting heavily, before Sivoy touched her neck. There was no mark, but Atanar imagined crimson handprints upon her pale skin. She murmured something to Kiluan, then glared at Atanar. “Are you mad?”

            Of all the things she could have said, this pricked too close to the truth.

            “I should ask you the same thing,” he shot back. The right side of his face throbbed and he tightened his fists into white knuckles to prevent himself from striking out. “You’re the one who attacked me.”

            “Because you ruined our sodding hunt,” she snarled. “We’d been planning that ambush for days – Kiluan and Aupti had tracked that caravan almost from Saskah… Who knows when the next merchant will come through? We’ll have to move the entire camp because of you.”

            Atanar fought back another surge of rage and jerked his chin toward the fallen Aredians, who lay in pools of their own blood. “Ambushing these soft folk is not hunting. There is no honor in such an act.”

            Tartok wiped her bloody sword on one of the dead Aredians before she knelt and began to search his gear. “They are weak. It is our right to take from them what we wish. If you think differently, you are a fool.”

            “Aye, and you struck Sivoy.” Kiluan, a young woman with unusually dark hair, glared at Atanar. “She is our samaat. Such an act is punishable by death.”

            “Justice can be had right now,” Aupti said, and tightened his grip on Atanar’s arm.

            Several of the others muttered agreement, but Sivoy raised her hand in a gesture for silence, though her gaze did not leave Atanar’s. “They’re right, you know. I could have you killed.”

            He stared back. “So do it.”

            Sivoy frowned at him as she touched her neck again, then glanced between the others. “Take what you can. Leave the rest.”

            Aupti jerked Atanar’s wrist, causing him to stumble sideways. “What about this dreg?”

            “Slit his throat,” Kiluan murmured. “Leave his carcass for the crows.”

            Sivoy did not look at Atanar as she replied. “Bind his hands and bring him back with us.” A few of the others objected, but Sivoy silenced them with a glare. “I am your samaat. You will obey my command. We’re going home.”


Next time: “And you are all Canderi in the eyes of the Aredians. If one clan brings the branch down upon its own head, the rest of the tree will surely follow.”

Catalyst Moon: Exile (Part Four)

Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

Happy reading. 😁


FOUR

A week later, Atanar paused beside a copse of fir trees, searching for a suitable location for the snare. A well-traveled game trail was best, preferably one surrounded by rocks or thick brush, which would funnel his prey through his chosen spot.

Something cracked behind him. “Shit,” Corvac muttered. “Sorry.”

Atanar bit back a sigh but did not turn. “I said, ‘silently.’”

Crouched low, eyes darting across the trees, Corvac drew beside him. “I’m trying. How in Atal’s name can you be so quiet? You’re as big as a fucking oak tree.”

Atanar frowned at the Aredian terms, but ignored them for now. “Practice,” he replied in a whisper. “Of which you need more of.”

“I can catch as many rabbits as I want.”

There. Where those saplings curved toward one another, a few rocks were strewn on either side, creating a path between the young trees. The dirt and snow were kicked up as well, revealing the neat prints of fallow deer.

 Atanar withdrew the sinew to wind it into a noose. The juniper and white sage oil he’d rubbed on their clothes stung his nostrils, but would help mask his and Corvac’s scent. “Rabbits aren’t filling,” he said as he worked. “It’s more efficient to kill one larger creature than a dozen small ones.”

Corvac studied Atanar’s hands, which deftly knotted the sinew and began looping it around the saplings. “Eh, there’s no point in catching deer. We get everything we need from our real hunts. I only catch the rabbits because Utu likes their pelts.”

Snare secure, Atanar glanced around the area to mentally mark the location before moving on. Corvac followed, and they walked through the pine and fir trees for a few minutes before Atanar asked, “What is it that you really hunt, if not large game? There are no atsuula here, and only a few toothless old ones in your camp.”

“How many more traps are you going to set?” Corvac replied instead. “I stink of sage and we’ve been out here all fuckingmorning. I want to get back before the others leave for their hunt.”

Now, Atanar paused and regarded the boy, who stared back with a mixture of amusement and unease. “What?” Corvac finally asked.

Even his accent held too many traces of Aredian.

Atanar shook his head before he slipped around a juniper bush. “No self-respecting Canderi should use such…Aredian slang. It’s beneath us.”

The boy waggled his eyebrows. “It is? Ea’s tits! I’ll have to let the others know.”

Na nippu ikhu.” The Canderi words rolled off of Atanar’s tongue like wind through grass. How musical they sounded next to the crass Aredian speech.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Corvac scrunch his face as he repeated the words, then the boy frowned. “What’s that mean?”

Atanar fought back a smile and paused before another clearing. “That was me telling you to stop speaking from your ass.”

Corvac gaped at him, then tossed back his head in laughter loud enough to rouse a family of ptarmigans from their roosts. As the game birds fluttered away, Atanar shot the boy a warning look, but Corvac only grinned at him with the same kind of broad, delighted smile that Nel used to give. Atanar’s chest tightened and he had to look elsewhere.

He swallowed thickly and continued along the trail, which was blanketed with brown needles. In this area, the trees were so thick that their boughs draped the trail in shades of green and kept the worst of the snow at bay. Not much farther on, gleams of white broke through the dark shadows of the trees. Cold wind stung Atanar’s face, even through his beard and thick furs, and froze his breath into spirals of white air; spring was coming, but winter had not yet released its grip upon the world.

Corvac peered between the conifers on all sides. “Do you really expect to catch a deer with those little loops?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Corvac said. “We have everything we need. We don’t want your deer.”

Something passed ahead, beyond the tree-line. Something big. “More for me,” Atanar replied, lifting his hand in silent signal for Corvac to stop.

But Corvac didn’t stop, not even once the creature passing ahead became visible. Atanar grabbed the boy’s fur-lined jacket to pull him back, and dragged him bodily behind a few closely-growing conifers.

To the boy’s credit, he didn’t curse until they were settled, then he shot Atanar a scandalized look. “What the fuck are you–”     

Atanar clamped a gloved hand over Corvac’s mouth and nodded ahead, where the caradoc crossed into the clearing. Already taller than Corvac at its shoulder, the snow lion was still lean and lanky with youth; his mane, too, was scraggly, like the beard of a teenage boy. Spots of charcoal flecked its white coat, creating the perfect camouflage within the forest. The caradoc moved across the clearing with the effortless grace of one who feared nothing, though no doubt every sense was alert for a trace of danger – or supper.

Atanar resolved that Corvac would be neither.

Corvac shifted, but Atanar did not release him until the snow lion had passed out of sight. Even then, he gave the boy a stern look, pressing his finger to his lips in a gesture to be silent, and removed his hand.

He’d expected the boy to exclaim immediately, perhaps with more accursed Aredian swearing, but Corvac only craned his head to get a last look at the caradoc. “What was that?”

 Atanar’s throat tightened and it took him a moment too long to reply. “A caradoc. A young one, too, by the look of his mane.”

Caradoc,” Corvac whispered reverently. “I’ve never seen one before. Only heard of them. Do…” He winced. “Your name. Caradoc Keraasi Atanar. You were from that clan, right?”

By now, everyone in the kulkri camp knew Atanar’s story – and his shame. The proud snow lion whom had once been revered by Atanar’s entire clan was now no more than a memory, and a stain of blood covered by snow.

Atanar pretended to study the open patch of ground where the caradoc had passed. When he was certain he could speak normally, he jerked his chin. “Let me show you something.”

Corvac studied the clearing again. “Uh…are you sure it’s safe? Won’t that thing come back?”

“Doubtful,” Atanar said as he slipped free of their hiding spot. “But just in case…how fast can you run?”

When Corvac gaped at him again, it was Atanar’s turn to lift his brows. In response, Corvac jerked his finger in a gesture that was no doubt meant to be insulting. Atanar ignored it—it was probably Aredian, anyway—and made his way to the clearing, where he scanned the tree-line again to be certain the caradoc had gone.

Corvac pointed to the trail of massive paw prints that marked the predator’s passage through the snow. “Ea’s tits,” the boy breathed. “Look at the size of those tracks!”

Kneeling, Atanar spread his hand across the nearest print; they were the same size. “This one’s only a few summers old,” he murmured as Corvac did the same to another print, which dwarfed his hand. “I’d wager it just left its family den a few weeks ago, when the snow started to thaw.”

“Will it get much bigger?” Corvac asked.

Atanar held up both hands, placing his thumbs and forefingers together and spreading his palms. “An adult’s paws are about this size. Ruuk’s were larger.”

“Shit.” Corvac stared at the tracks again, shaking his head slowly.

“Have you truly never seen a caradoc before?” Atanar asked.

Corvac shrugged. “We usually don’t travel this far north. Utu says it’s too cold. But sometimes the hunting is good.” He paused. “Did you… I mean, I’ve heard the others say that some Canderi actually ride these things. Is that true?”

Suddenly, it was difficult to breathe. A hot flush spread through Atanar, despite the cold air, and his stomach churned with the memory of Ruuk’s blood painting the snow beneath his feet. His fault. Atanar had not held the claymore, but he may as well have slit the snow lion’s throat. The result would have been the same.

Even in the company of others, he was alone, bereft of the companion he’d raised from a kit since he was Corvac’s age. No matter where he went or what he did, he would never feel that connection with another living being. He was alone; he would always be alone.

Pikarac?”

Atanar blinked and looked back at the boy, frowning at him beneath his fur-lined hood. “Yes,” he managed. “It’s true.”

“Did you?”

I’m sorry, Ruuk. Atanar had destroyed so much; it was the way of vorunn, to take everything until it left one empty. “Yes.”

When he said nothing else, Corvac frowned, then nodded to the snares at Atanar’s belt. “Can we go home now? Unless you want to stand around and keep freezing your fucking arse off.”

Atanar sighed deeply. “Ancestors help me,” he said as they began to make their way back to the trail. “You must learn some new words.”


I had a lot of fun creating the Canderi language. It’s loosely based off of Inuit. This was my primary resource: https://library.alaska.gov/hist/hist_docs/docs/anlm/200078.pdf

Next time: The smile she gave him held no warmth. “Ready your weapon, and try to keep up.”

on new endeavors

Hi there!

Exciting news! I’m starting my own editing/author services gig. That’s right, after nearly a quarter-century writing fiction and about a decade of editing for others, I’ve gone pro.

Here’s my official page that discusses the services I offer. Please take a look, let me know what you think, and share with your friends or anyone who might need some editing or help crafting their novel. 😊

My first love is and always will be fiction, but I’m able to proofread nonfiction as well. (Reports, speeches, etc.)

Truth be told, this is a little frightening; I’ve done this editing thing for so long, but have never charged actual money for my work. But despite the fear, I’m taking the leap. I refuse to let fear control my actions. Besides, if not now, then when?

Thank you and stay awesome!

Lauren

PS: Here’s that page again: https://laloga.com/author-services

Please share! 😁

Catalyst Moon: Exile (Part Three)

Part One. Part Two.

Aaand we’re back. Here’s more of Atanar’s story! Enjoy. 😘


Three

A fire burned in a brazier at the center of the kulkri tent while its smoke escaped through vents at the top. The heat remained. It closed around Atanar like a fist as he stood, back to the fire, facing the assembled kulkri who studied him with those arrow-pointed eyes. The hide walls of the tent shivered beneath the assault of the storm that raged outside.

 Sweat prickled along his spine and his heart raced, but Atanar stood tall; he would not be cowed by these scrabbling brigands. He spoke carefully, lest his voice betray him. “If you want to know, my name is Caradoc Keraasi Atanar.”

The kulkri cast one another wide-eyed glances, and more than a few murmurs of surprise ran through their numbers. Tikaani nodded once, his wizened face set with satisfaction, while Sivoy was silent.

Tikaani raised his hands in a call for silence, then regarded Atanar once more. “You are of the Caradoc clan, then? The son of Keraasi?”

“That’s what I said.”

There were only a dozen kulkri within this tent; save Sivoy, most of them were older than him. Atanar stood, surrounded. His scalp prickled beneath their scrutiny; his breath came in short, shallow bursts and his heartbeat thundered in his ears.

Another kulkri, a man, shook his head. “If you are of their clan, where is your caradoc, then?”

The emptiness in his heart where Ruuk should have been howled with grief. Heat stung Atanar’s eyes but he forced himself respond without hesitation. “Slain.”

The kulkri man was unimpressed. “How do we know he speaks truly?”

“I can vouch for his words,” Tikaani said before Atanar could reply. “I recognize him from the last Gathering.”

“But that must have been nearly a decade ago, Utu,” Sivoy replied. “How can you be certain this is the same man?”

A few other kulkri nodded in agreement. Tikaani, unfazed, glanced between the others, though his gaze landed on his granddaughter. “My body is frail, but my memory is still sharp. He is who he claims to be.”

But Sivoy shook her head. “As you say. But what does it matter anyway? If he’s vorunn, if he is dead to his own family, then he’s of no use to anyone.”

She added another dark look in Atanar’s direction. He tried to return it in kind, but the warmth from the fire swam through his head and his vision swam, as if distorted by rippling waves of heated air. His heart beat faster. That chorus of voices, that strange impulsion, whispered somewhere in the back of his mind. Kill it. Kill them all.

His hands tightened into fists but he managed to push his words out regardless. “If my presence so troubles you, kulkri, I shall leave. You are not obligated to treat me kindly.”

Sivoy glared, but Tikaani cleared his throat, drawing everyone’s attention. “What did you do, to have your soul taken away?”

“Aye,” another kulkri called. “Explain how you came to be cursed with vorunn.

Where once heat had flooded Atanar’s body, now a cold unlike any he’d ever known swept through each vein. Everything around him fell into blackness as his memory cast him back to that night.

He is surrounded, his enemies pressing closer, closer. But he will not fall – not tonight. His arms burn he lifts his claymore, again and again and again. Ruuk’s roar reverberates in his chest, echoes in his ears, but he ignores the caradoc’s panic. His blade bites into something hard, like bone, and the impact shakes him to his core. But he cannot drop his weapon.

There are screams on all sides, and Ruuk’s roars, but no sound as loud as the shrieking cacophony from within the darkest corners of his mind, Kill them!

It echoes through his mind, but it is not his thought. Nor is the anger pulsing through his blood his. They are invaders. He must fight them back. He must end this now. But surely the voice that crawls from his throat is too harsh to be his own. “Get back!”

Kill them all!

No. This is wrong. He gathers all his strength, tightens his grip around the slippery hilt of his claymore, and strikes one final time. It will be the last one. “Get away! You will not have me!”

 At last, at last the foreign feeling falls aside. Empty, weightless, he collapses to the cold ground, gasping…but alive. The air is thick with the iron scent of blood, but his own heart still beats and Ruuk is beside him, warm and alive. He has won.

When Atanar raises his eyes to the stars to thank his ancestors, he sees the remnants of his battle.

His heart beat so fast, he did not know if he could speak. Where was his soul? Gone, if indeed he’d ever had one. How could someone who’d done what he had done be anything but a monster?

“Answer my grandfather,” Sivoy barked, rousing Atanar from his thoughts. “What did you do, to be made ‘vorunn?’”

“I… murdered innocents,” he said slowly. “A hunting party I traveled with.”

Silence settled over the kulkri tent and Atanar felt the true weight of the others’ shock fall across him like an avalanche. As well it should, and press the life from his body in the process.

Tikaani closed his eyes briefly, but nodded once. “Why did you do such a thing?”

How many times had Atanar asked himself that same question? The answer never changed. He shook his head. “I cannot say, exactly. All I know for certain is that some madness gripped me; some strange will took over my own and made me act…” He took a deep breath to calm himself. “I didn’t want to hurt any of them.”

“But you did,” Sivoy said. “And you cannot even take responsibility for such heinous actions.” She snorted. “’Some madness.’ A coward’s defense.”

“I know how it sounds,” he shot back. “But it’s the truth.”

“What did your samaat say to this?” Tikaani replied.

Atanar lowered his eyes to the burning coals within the brazier, and did not reply. The fact that he was here, outcast from his home and dead to his kin, was answer enough.

“You see, Utu?” Sivoy said at last. “He is too dangerous to stay.

“He’ll bring nothing but trouble,” one of the other kulkri women added. “I vote we send him away.”

A few of the others nodded and cast Atanar more dark looks as they muttered agreements. He tensed beneath their collective gaze; he could feel the judgment in their eyes as surely as the bite of winter wind. He swallowed thickly and stared at the entrance to the tent, beyond which the storm raged. 

However, Tikaani’s voice was quiet. “Will you treat us the same way, Atanar?”

He had not heard his own name spoken by another since he’d been marked vorunn. The sounds were almost foreign. Almost. Atanar glanced up, into the old man’s eyes, and found them filled with, of all things, hope.

For what, he could not say. “I don’t know,” was the only answer he could give. Again. “I have no wish to harm you.”

“Oh, aye,” Sivoy sneered. “You would be perfectly happy to live among…what did you name us? ‘Kulkri?’”

Kill it. Atanar fought to ignore the urge that beat through his blood and instead regarded the kulkri samaat with what calm he could muster. “So your kind have been named by mine. But we are not the only ones who do such things; your brother called me ‘pikarac.’

Peals of laughter rang out through the assembled kulkri at the word. Sivoy, smiling, regarded him again. “You would let a child’s teasing offend you so? Truly,” she added gravely, “you are a fine warrior, to return such treatment in kind.”

Atanar flushed and glanced at Tikaani. “Your offer is well-meant, but I cannot accept a place among your people.”

“Nor are you welcome here,” Sivoy added. She, too, looked at her grandfather. “I have done as you advised, Utu, but surely you can see that he should not be allowed to remain.”

 Again, silence fell across the tent as the others waited for Tikaani’s next words. They were some moments in coming. When they did, they were quiet as before, but shaded with sorrow. “You said you have no wish to harm us,” he said to Atanar. “What, then, do you desire?”

The answer broke free of him before he could stop it. “To go home.”

“But you have no home,” Tikaani replied. “According to your own family, you have no name, nor life, nor even a soul. What will you do if we send you away?”

Sivoy made a noise of disgust. “Why does it matter what he wants? He’s vorunn. The world is better without him.”

“So have many of our people been named,” her grandfather said to her, sitting straighter. “Including those of your own blood. Vorunn does not always mean evil. I would not be so quick to cast judgment upon that which you do not understand.”

Sivoy gestured around the tent, where the walls trembled beneath the wind’s battery. “I understand enough. Everyone here is under my protection, Utu. I value your guidance, but I am the samaat of our people, now, and I say we send this…murderer away.”

Atanar released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. Of course, there would be no other judgment; if she was truly the chieftain of this “clan,” Sivoy had every right to turn him away. But now that such an outcome was upon him, he realized he’d wanted a different one. Even if it meant living among these…brigands.

 Just as Atanar was preparing to verbally accept this fate, Tikaani spoke again. “One month,” the old man said to his granddaughter. “Give him a full cycle of the first moon. If after that time, you still desire to, you may send him away. And in the meantime, I will vouch for him.”

Only because he happened to glance at the right moment did Atanar see how Sivoy’s shoulders slumped, briefly, at her grandfather’s words. A fleeting look of what Atanar could only think of as resignation passed over her face, but when she looked back at Tikaani, her expression was like cool stone.

“You will claim responsibility for him?” she asked.

Tikaani nodded. “Aye.”

Atanar’s breath caught and dread pooled in his belly.

Sivoy seemed to feel the same. “You know what this entails, Utu. If he–”

“I know what I say, Sivoy.” Tikaani glared at his granddaughter and his words cracked through the tent like lightning; even Sivoy recoiled slightly, as if she’d been struck. The others were silent. Atanar, too, dared not move, lest he break whatever now passed unspoken between the family members.

At last Sivoy glanced around the tent slowly. “Do any of you object to these terms?”

  Silence.

  Atanar straightened. “I do.”

You have no say here,” Sivoy replied.

“It’s my life you speak of. And if you’re asking everyone’s opinion, shouldn’t mine count as well?”

“What objection do you have?” Tikaani asked.

Before answering, Atanar surveyed the kulkri again. Most of them were fair-haired and blue eyed, as he was, with strong bodies fit for survival in the skull of the world. But flesh and bone were so frail. Every one of these men and women could be torn to pieces so easily. He looked at his hands; though they’d long since been scrubbed clean, he could still see rivulets of blood. And within him, vorunn waited.

No, he thought, closing his hands into fists. I cannot risk it happening again. “I don’t wish to harm you,” he began. “But I cannot promise that I won’t. Before, when I…” The words died in his throat; he took a deep breath. “When I killed the others…I don’t remember exactly what happened. All I know is I cannot promise it will not happen again.”

Sivoy looked at her grandfather; she said nothing, but her disbelief was plainly written across her face. The others, too, shifted and cast skeptical glances at one another – and at Atanar.

But Tikaani only rubbed his beard in thought. At last he nodded once and met Sivoy’s eyes. “Then we will honor the terms of vorunn, and not allow him to touch a blade. And at the first sign of trouble, we will send him away. Will that satisfy you, Sivoy?”

She crossed her arms before her chest. “I suppose he may travel with us, for a little while. We can always use another pair of hands when we hunt.”     

“Will you stay, Atanar?” There it was, again, that naked hope in Tikaani’s face, etched in the lines across his forehead and around his eyes.

Atanar took a deep breath, assessing his strength. The foreign presence was quiet now, calm. As he was. Perhaps, with time, he could learn to control it, if not banish it outright. Perhaps there was some strange Aredian magic that could even help.

Maybe there is hope. Atanar nodded once, so low it was nearly a bow. “One month, as you say.”

His heart lifted as Tikaani smiled. “You won’t regret it, tigu.”

Atanar’s breath caught at the epithet, but he only nodded again. Sivoy frowned, but rose to her feet in one fluid motion. “The matter is settled for now. The stranger will travel with us for one month. After that…” She looked back at Atanar. “We will see.”

Moments later, the others began to leave of the tent, presumably back to their own tents, for the wind had quieted. As they left, Sivoy helped her grandfather to his feet. “Why would you call him ‘tigu’ when he’s not part of our family? Are you planning on adopting him? Because I won’t allow it.”

“Give him time,” Tikaani said, looking between Sivoy and Atanar. “I think you will find a different perspective, later.”

Sivoy stared at him, then sighed and shook her head.

“What happened?” Corvac asked. He’d slipped inside the tent as the others had left.

His sister crossed her arms before her chest. “Utu asked that the stranger be allowed to travel with us for one month. I’ve allowed it.”

The boy’s eyes lit up. “Really?” When Atanar nodded, he grinned. “Do you like hunting?”

 Atanar gave a noncommittal shrug. “I can provide for myself and those around me, though…”

He trailed off at the sight of Sivoy’s claymore, strapped to her back. How could he hunt if he could not wield a blade?

“We have kuvlu,” Sivoy said, as if reading his thoughts. “You can swing a rope with rocks tied at the end, I hope.”

Atanar nodded and Corvac bounced on his heels as he continued to regard their clan’s newest addition. “I’ll bet you’re a great hunter. Siv, if he goes with you on the next hunt, can I come, too?”

“You’re still too young,” Sivoy said, frowning again. “Don’t even think of it.”

The boy rolled his eyes to the tent’s ceiling. “Utu, tell her I’m ready!”

“Corvac,” Tikaani said, touching the boy’s arm. “Your sister is right. It’s too dangerous for you now. Come,” he added with a nod to the tent’s exit. “The storm has died down. Let’s see if the others left us any supper.”

“There’s some,” Corvac said as he helped his grandfather out of the tent. “But not that much. Tartok was really hungry tonight.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Are you hungry, pikarac?”

“He’ll be along in a moment,” Sivoy said.

Once they’d left, Atanar glanced at the young woman again. “Why did you ask the others for their opinion? How many kulkri are needed to make a decision for the good of their clan?”

“We are not like you northerners.” Sivoy touched her sash: red, yellow, green, blue and white braided cloth. “We are one clan, one family. Everyone has a voice.”

“That’s madness,” Atanar said, frowning again. “You…vote on all decisions? How does anything get done? What is the purpose of a single leader if everyone has a voice?”

“I would not be so hasty with my judgments, pikarac. You are not in a position to be so fickle with your fate.”

“Apparently, I am,” Atanar could not help but say.

She shook her head. “Everyone who is one of us has a voice. But you are a stranger. You are still vorunn. You will always be vorunn.” She seemed to consider something, then grabbed his wrist with surprising strength. “If you prove my grandfather wrong,” she hissed. “If you bring harm to any of my people, you will regret it.”

The claymore at her back shifted as she spoke, emphasizing her words. Atanar’s blood beat faster at her sharp tone, at her fingers closed around his wrist, at the anger in her eyes. His vision swam, and for one moment, all he could think of was blood.

He shook his head to banish the feeling. Sivoy tensed, though she did not release his wrist, nor did she look away. At last, when Atanar’s vision cleared, he took a deep breath. “If I harmed your family, you would truly end my life?”

Her brow creased in surprise. “Aye. That’s what I said.”

“Good,” he said, and wrenched his wrist from her grasp.


Next time: The caradoc moved across the clearing with the effortless grace of one who feared nothing, though no doubt every sense was alert for a trace of danger – or supper.

Thank you for reading! 💜