Most of their traveling was done in silence but Hyenta preferred it. Her thoughts jumped from fear to the simmering attraction she felt for Parren and back again. Sparing another glance at the tall youth whom walked slightly behind her. The Emissary’s eyes instantly locked with her own, capturing her with the fire that burned in them. Hyenta felt herself responding to the need of her mate. She felt her breasts ache and an answering throb in her lower belly. The Achaian tore her eyes away long enough to see Parren’s own nipples were rigid.
What has come over her lately? Just days before she led a quiet life, feeling little. Now her emotions ran rampant, her heart raced, and her body ached for things unknown.
Hanpa hid a smile as he watched the looks between the two women. Both were undeniably drawn to one another yet at a loss on how to approach the other. Parren, bless her, was used to grabbing what she wanted. Few resisted her and catered to the young Emissary’s desires.
Once more worry trickled into her mind. She was still afraid that her father would send men after them and drag her back home. Hyenta often looked behind them while praying that she would see nothing. As so far, there was no sign of anyone pursuing them.
“Do not fear little one,” Thrana said cheerfully. “Our people know many secrets handed down from the ancient ones. We haven’t lost a Trader in over twenty generations. While you are with us you are safe.”
She wanted to believe him, she really did, but if any were determined to catch them, they would. Three men, unarmed, could do nothing to stop them. She shuddered. The city had several outsiders, who were rumored, who were willing to do anything for a price. What if her father hired them? Although she wasn’t an experienced forger, she still knew enough to help the Sinaguans develop their own metal works. She often heard conversations among the owners of the metal works. Her father would fear she’d give that knowledge to her new mate.
“Master…” Jopa’s voice hissed. Thrana turned and followed the young man’s gaze. His cunning eyes spotted the same thing his apprentice did. The telltale signs of being followed from far behind. He glanced around and told the apprentices to chop down several leafy branches from the trees. They would sweep away their tracks as best they could and head for the outer edges of the Pisa-tinock lands, where the hard earth would leave no prints. From there they could go in any direction. The only problem was that there was little cover, just windswept lands of hard soil and cliffs. But they had other means to hide if they drew too close.
“Fill your water skins and grab whatever edible foods you can. We’re going to the barren lands west of us,” he ordered. The two youngsters did as they were told quickly. He turned to Hyenta.
“Give your pack to Jopa. You will need your strength to keep up,” he held up his hand, seeing her ready to protest. Her pride demanded she carried her own possessions but he knew her limits. “Do as you are told young lady and we may all live to tell the tale. Give him your pack,” he repeated.
She was going to die--she just knew it. Every muscle in her body was screaming for mercy yet they continued. Hyenta just didn’t have it in her to move another inch. She dropped to the hard red earth with a muffled thud. She felt hands on her and someone speaking but the words were confusing. She blacked out.
The young woman woke much later, confused and still exhausted. She blinked her eyes trying to focus but all she could see was earth-red blurs. Suddenly a blur moved towards her and spoke.
“It’s alright Hyenta, we’re safe for now. Drink this and go back to sleep.”
Cool water trickled down her throat and she slept once more.
Again she woke. She was half reclined against a bank. She could see old gnarled roots around her. It was shadowy and cold where she was. Where were they? The smaller woman opened her mouth to speak but a hand quickly silenced her. Just as quickly she grew afraid. What was happening? Her ears listened for the slightest of sounds, and then she heard them. Strangers were getting closer.
“Keep still. Close your eyes wife, and don’t open them until I tell you to,” Parren whispered low. Hyenta obeyed her and began to pray.
The strangers got closer and closer yet Parren held her still and quiet. They came so close she had to fight to remain where she was and not scream in fear. Her heartbeat blocked out most of the sounds of the men speaking quietly to one another. They sounded confused. Long minutes dragged on before Hyenta realized the voices were getting further away. Their voices grew fainter and fainter then were gone.
“Alright, open your eyes but don’t move. They could return,” Parren warned.
Panting, she looked around but didn’t see the others. “Where is everyone? And why did those men walk right past us? Why-“
“Shhh, it’s alright Hyenta. Calm down. The men didn’t see us because we hid in plain sight. See?”
Hyenta turned her head and looked at Parren and gasped. She was the color of the ground and stones! She leaned closer and saw that she was merely painted with the very soil they were upon. Parren blinked and she realized even her eyelids were stained. She looked at herself and saw the same coloring on her self. Everything was in fact. The packs, their clothing, even their hair. Looking closer she saw twigs and roots twined in Parren’s short hair.
“Camouflage is a great way to avoid people,” Parren grinned.
She quickly scanned around them but didn’t see the three male traders. “Where are-“
“There,” Parren whispered, pointing further along the crumbling bank. Hyenta saw nothing. She was about to say so when Parren hooted lightly. The Achaian saw a slight movement to her left. She focused hard and thought she saw the faintest outline of one of the men.
“So, this is your ‘magic’?” she asked, disappointed.
Parren chuckled. “Hardly. This is merely a trick. We avoid the old magic unless necessary. You are not a Trader and it wouldn’t do to allow you to witness our abilities, wife,” the Emissary told her honestly.
Hyenta let out her breath in a puff. Of course it would be foolish to reveal your secrets. Didn’t she learn anything from these last few days? Parren saw the woebegone look in her eyes.
“It’s not from the lack of trust Hyenta. Every minor member of the Rangar is given one secret and only one. He or she knows that if someone captured them that not all knowledge would be lost to outsiders. It’s our way.”
“So what you know is different from the others know?”
“Yes. What is revealed to us depends on our gifts that we are born with. Even we have no idea what others know. It’s best that way.”
“And I thought your people were simple Traders. How foolish of me,” Hyenta murmured. Her own people considered themselves superior to the other peoples around them. Hadn’t they formed a vast and influential city? Compared to their splendor the outsiders were nothing more than peasants, fit for drudgery and disagreeable occupations. Even the Achaian slaves felt their stations in life far were above the outsiders. Hyenta would have to put aside her assumptions of a lifetime and learn from her new people.
Once the Master Traders were convinced the strangers were long gone they double backed, heading for the Shalopas. Hanpa was eager to collect his new mate and returning home. He spoke often of her virtues while the others smiled indulgently.
Hyenta was curious about the old man, wondering why he hadn’t married before. He laughed heartily. “Wife of Parren, I have a living wife at home, along with a dozen children. Why do you assume I never married?”
She was stunned. They only took one spouse among her community. “Well, I had thought…” she didn’t know what to say. He laughed again.
“We can take more than one mate as long as the ones you have are agreeable, wife of Parren.”
Hyenta shook her head, more amused by his quirk of never saying her name than his explanation. She said so.
“You haven’t given me permission to use your name, wife of Parren,” he smiled.
“I wasn’t aware you needed it, Master Trader,” she teased. “You may address me by my given name. All of you,” she added. Jopa and Thrana smiled. If she had been one of their women the men would have grinned broadly. It was considered rude to use a married woman’s name without her let. Permission was usually granted to men that the woman would consider appealing for blanket play. It was a harmless type of flirtation. Parren would have to tell Hyenta later of the meaning behind such a simple act. Every culture had their own little social quirks.
By nightfall they were within a half-day’s journey from the Shalopas. The vegetation was growing thicker as the moisture in the air increased. They sat around their small fire and chatted. Hyenta found the Traders warm and charming. Old Thrana was her favorite of the men. He was kind and spoke to her with respect. She found herself admitting silently to herself that she wished he had been her father. The Trader was supportive and never made her feel foolish for asking so many questions. Hanpa, although just as approachable, had the habit of teasing his apprentices. Hyenta noticed Jopa often laughed even when he was the butt of the jest but Parren rarely smiled. The Achaian wondered if the teasing hurt her mate’s feelings.
Hyenta reached out her hand and took Parren’s strong one in her own, squeezing it softly. Parren met her eyes and smiled shyly. Hyenta decided to take another step forward by suggesting they retire for the night. She was tired and looked forward to snuggling with her mate. She had just begun speaking when Thrana held up his hand for silence. Everyone froze, their ears straining to listen to the night sounds.
Nearby foliage rustled as though brushed by movement. Hyenta gasped as a pair of miniature deer ran past them in the dark. Once they disappeared from sight she left out a sigh of relief. She was about to speak but Parren quickly covered her mouth with her palm. She whispered into her ear to remain silent. Her eyes must have shown her shock because her mate explained why she silenced her.
“Deer do not run at night unless frightened. Something is out there,” she warned.
Hanpa stood straighter and sniffed the wind. People. The ones following them were careless and were upwind of the Traders. It was too late to flee. Like it or not he had to display his gift.
“Grab your packs, quickly!” he hissed and pulled out a small crystal from the bag hanging from his neck. He motioned them closer to him and closed his eyes, concentrating on the destination he sought. The distance would be pushing his abilities but he didn’t care.
Hyenta watched as the very air next to the Master Trader began glowing, softly at first then brighter, rivaling the glow of the moon. Before she could ask what was happening the old Master grabbed his long time friend and pushed him towards the light
Thrana trusted his friend and didn’t question him. He stepped bravely into the light and vanished before the others could blink.
“What-“ The young woman began asking.
“Don’t stop and ask questions now. I don’t know how long I can hold it open. Step through now!” Hanpa hissed impatiently.
The apprentices shifted their packs onto their shoulders and each grabbed one of Hyenta’s arms, pulling her towards the light. She squealed in surprise then found herself being dragged along until the lights blinded her for a moment. She felt no pain but her heart was pounding fast in fear. As suddenly as the light blinded her it was gone. She blinked and looked around and saw for the first time in her life a great body of water.
“Where are we?” she asked. No one had the chance to answer because suddenly Hanpa appeared from thin air and landed with a thud onto the sandy ground. The men helped him to stand.
“Are you all right Master?” Parren asked.
“Yes, I am fine.” He stood straight and put his hand on the small of his back. It took more out of him than he’d like to admit. He was glad he had decided to retire after this season. “Let’s rest here until the sun comes up. We can’t walk into the Shalopa village in the middle of the night without upsetting people,” he suggested.
“The Shalopas?” Hyenta asked.
“Yes,” he answered then pointed up along the shore. “Their village is just a short ways down that way. Don’t you see their fires?”
The young woman strained her eyes and saw small specks of lights. The elderly Trader’s eyes were still better than hers.
Everyone dropped their packs and settled into the soft sand with their blankets. Hyenta smiled at Parren who waved her closer then wrapped the blanket over them. The larger girl curled around her and was soon fast asleep.
To be continued...
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