by nyrdgyrl

Disclaimer: Angst, violence, and implied love between consenting adult women.

Feedback please (I'm begging here)

As a Du Marquette heir, I'd spent large portions of my childhood preparing for my investiture. While other girls my age gamboled merrily, their thoughts revolving around what to wear and who they might marry, I sparred and suffered through classes about military tactics and colony history. What stuck with me was that Du Marquette hatred of Kenners was rooted in a tragedy that occurred eons ago on the seed ship that carried our slumbering ancestors to this part of the galaxy.

My family was first of the First Families and we ruled this quadrant with an iron fist. Land was fought over and awarded only to those who proved their mettle in trials designed by the First Family Council. This day was the day of my trial. If I succeeded, a province would be mine to rule as I would. If I failed, I'd be subject to the Council's judgment. My blood ran cold when I imagined what they might do to me; I'd been vocal in expressing my contrary opinions, and that fact had placed me well outside of the Council's favor.

These worries and more clamored for my attention while I sighted down the length of a brass tipped arrow at the bruised and bloodied Kenner catching his breath on the shore of Deloria Bay. The Kenner was dark skinned and tall, with short cropped hair and a well defined muscularity that was coveted and envied by my people, a superior physical specimen by any person's reckoning. I was also tall, but much leaner, almost willowy in stature, and my long braids whipped around my head, tossed about by the frozen wind blowing off the bay.

We'd been running all day, our battle waged across rocky, frost rimed heath. His weapons were limited to what he could find and use, I'd been given a bow with three arrows and a knife. I only had one arrow left. Earlier in the day he'd almost bested me by setting an ambush in amongst a group of boulders. Anxious to kill before I lost my nerve, I entered the trap heedless of the danger. I'd been reprieved when Drea dragged me backwards and away, stunned and bloodied, but hale enough to continue the chase after a brief rest. I'd winged him with a hasty shot before the trap was sprung so both of us were wounded in the encounter. I broke one of my arrows in the fall.

Partially hidden by the thicket, the Kenner shivered from cold and fatigue. He was wearing an ill fitted loincloth and leather sandals; I wore the same, except I'd been given a cloth to bind my breasts. Despite his injuries, the Kenner was regal, majestic, splendid in his exhaustion. I was wind burned, depleted, a scribe to his king. I was happiest when writing poetry for Drea, or penciling her image in my sketch book. I was not meant to lead, to kill. By all appearances, the Kenner was better suited to the life meant to be mine.

While we waited, the Kenner tested his weight on the ankle he'd twisted earlier in the day. From where I crouched with Drea, it looked misshapen and painful; I doubted that it would hold if he ran on. When he settled back onto his haunches, I idly wished that he'd been a criminal or that they'd told me his name. Then he wouldn't be a nameless, faceless victim I had to kill to earn my future, he would be alive and real in my mind. Someone I might be able to hate for something he'd actually done. Instead, he'd been chosen randomly after being captured during a raid, healed, then set loose as the target for my initiation.

I prayed to Hesta, warrior goddess of my people, for the strength to complete my task. She knew that I had no desire to end this man's life, but time was running out. I only had until sundown and the base of the sun had just brushed Mount L'Engle's peak, less than 30 minutes remained before the light died.

Unlike Hesta, father had no such knowledge. We had come to kill and kill we would. My elder sister, Caelea, had disgraced our family by bolting in the middle of her initiation. It was a sad day for me when we performed the Ceremony of the Dead in her memory. I prayed that she was alive, out there, somewhere, even though she was dead to our family.

Father's Council position was too tenuous to weather another disgrace, so he brought two guards along to ensure my compliance. My uncle Dermot had been clamoring for father's seat, arguing that he'd gotten soft over the years. If I failed, Dermot's cause would gain momentum, the Council demanded strong leadership; if father couldn't control his own family, then he shouldn't lead the Council. A lot was riding on my shoulders.

My only comfort in this endeavor was hunkered by my side. Andrea Reichard, my love and life companion was literally attached to my hip by a length of rope. We'd been tethered together to give the Kenner a fighting chance for survival. The Council reasoned that two weren't able to run together nearly as well as one. This handicap combined with the Kenner's physicality might give him enough of an advantage to escape my arrows.

Drea squeezed my calf to bolster my nerve and remind me of my mission. She had been given to me when I was a youth, many lesser families made presents of unwanted daughters and she was the finest I had ever received. She was intended to serve as a handmaid, someone to fulfill my every whim. I wasn't supposed to fall in love, but her kind and generous nature got the better of me. Time and proximity bound our souls and now I couldn't live without her. Everything important about life, I'd learned at her feet.

I begged the Council to excuse her from this trial as her sensibilities were even more delicate than my own, but they ruled against me. She would be forced to witness just as I would be forced to kill. I breathed shallowly, wanting, needing to fill my lungs, but afraid to give away our position. We'd spent the day running the Kenner to ground; now all that was left was the kill shot.

Sweat dampened my forehead and ran under my torque while I waited for him to move out of the thicket. Just when my eyes crossed from fatigue, he raised his head and faced me full on. The hatred in his eyes burned and I turned my face away. I was wholly unprepared for father's hissed, "Now!" and I loosed an arrow without re-checking my aim.

Time tunneled while the arrow winged its way toward my target. My breath stalled in anticipation; part of me knew that I needed to make this kill if I wanted to live the life that Drea and I had planned. Part of me was sick about what that life would cost.

Luckily, the arrow struck home with a hollow thump and I sucked in a deep breath; it seemed I might be successful after all. The shot was high and behind my intended aim and father admonished, "You didn't lead it enough, but I doubt he makes it far. Not bad, Shayna." I grimaced and pulled Drea to her feet. Propriety demanded that we reach the Kenner first.

We pursued, crashing through the thicket towards the bay's pebbled shore. Scratched and harried by whipping branches, I burst through in time to witness my future's last faltering steps. My knees weakened in sympathy when the Kenner stumbled then crashed into the surf, sides heaving for breath. His rolling eyes and gaping mouth clearly telegraphed his terror.

I stared; transfixed by the arrow protruding from under his right collar bone. The wound looked painful, but not immediately fatal and time was running out. He never spoke, but his eyes pleaded for mercy. His blood burbled around the arrow with each exhalation and his legs dug shallow furrows in the wave swept shoreline. This man was ready to die.

When my gorge rose, father watched me with hooded eyes. He needed me to make this kill. Drea trembled within arm's reach, but remained outside of the triangle created by the Kenner, father, and myself. Despite her distance, I felt her eyes raking my back, begging me to do something. Mesmerized by the lapping waves, I stared at the silent Kenner, willing him to die, wishing that his heart would freeze in his chest. I stood there, too weak to raise my arms, still as the stones scattered on the shore, until the last sunray flickered and died. In spite of the cost, and it was dear, I couldn't bring myself make the killing stroke. Humbled by my failure, I bowed my head in shame.

Father huffed, then drew his sword. It flashed in the ambient light when he nudged my hand with the hilt of the weapon. "Take this. You have to finish it off, girl. He has to die regardless."

My head wobbled affirmatively, but the sword slipped from my nerveless fingers and clattered against a rock that had been uncovered by the Kenner's ineffectual struggle.

Father cursed, "Damn it girl, be careful! You'll ruin the edge." He bent and retrieved the weapon, carefully checking the blade for nicks. Too weak to resist, I sagged in father's arms when he slapped the hilt into my hand, steadied my arm, then pinned the Kenner to the ground by driving the sword point through his throat. The metallic tang wafting off the river of blood gagged me and I fell to my knees beside my kill. This man was dead by my hand. Drea sobbed while I vomited my regret onto his swiftly cooling carcass.

Afterwards, father stood a few steps to the side while Drea rocked me in her arms. I knew I'd failed; the sun had set and he'd still been breathing. I'd had a chance at success, but didn't take it. My fate was sealed when father dragged Drea away from my side, then ran the sharp edge of his knife across the tender skin of her throat. She was dead before she hit the ground.

The image of Drea's gaping throat is immutable, seared permanently on my mind's eye so that each time I blink or close my eyes to sleep; her lifeless eyes remind me of my failure. Occasionally, father's shocked visage joins her; I'd wretched the sword from the Kenner's throat and freed father's intestines before I even realized that I'd moved. Everything else that happened remains a blur. I remember a strangled gurgle, the clash of blades, the stench of shit and blood. I remember a red haze and voices, stumbling over endless frozen ground. I remember waking in the arms of a woman who smelled like Drea but wasn't. She and her family adopted me and I've been here ever since.

I've been with the Kenners for awhile now, sharing the lessons I learned as a child. I'm on the front line, searching for my sister, waiting for war, far from everything I ever held dear. My life, my love, my future - gone. We're waiting for the Council. I know they'll come for me. Maybe this time I'll get it right.

The End

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