Hanpa spoke privately with Hyenta the next morning but it wasn’t necessary. The young woman had already knew that she shouldn’t ever mention the way they escaped from their pursuers. He patted her shoulder and they joined the others for the short journey to the Shalopa village.
Everyone there greeted them warmly. The Achaian didn’t understand their language although she did hear a word occasionally that sounded familiar. Parren translated for her and informed her they would stay that day and leave in the morning to head for home. Hyenta was grateful for a day of rest but still felt nervous about reaching Parren’s people. Would they accept her? One thing she was happy about was that she wouldn’t be alone in learning a new language. Hanpa’s new wife also needed to learn the Sky People’s tongue.
They spent the day wandering the village and eating whenever someone handed them a bowl. They lazed around and chatted. Hyenta loved it even though she didn’t understand a word because her mate would sit there with her arm around her, keeping her close. It felt nice to be held that way; comfortably and without thought. Parren just took it for granted that she would welcome her affectionate displays.
Well, she certainly did welcome them although one young man looked disappointed. Perhaps he had hopes to spend time with one of them, but she wasn’t sure. People outside her own city had their own customs and morals. Parren warned her that in her own community, sex wasn’t forbidden between unmated adults. It had shocked her but she was an outsider and had no rights to say it was wrong among her own people.
· * * *
The next morning they were joined by Kalin, who was burdened by her own heavy pack. The woman explained that she would not return to her village and wished to bring as much of her possessions as possible. Hyenta offered to take some of her burden since her own possessions were few. The woman was grateful and they quickly shuffled the contents until Hyenta’s pack was full. She lifted the heavier pack and hoped she was up to the long trek to the mountains.
Thrana suggested that they get going and everyone followed him from the village. Hyenta noticed Kalin looking back sadly then forcing herself to look ahead, pushing aside the sadness she must feel at leaving her home. Hyenta sighed. Shouldn’t she feel sad too? Perhaps if she had loved her father she would have felt differently. Acha was a wondrous place but it didn’t hold her heart. That place was for Parren.
‘For Parren’. The words blossomed inside with such warmth at the realization that she indeed felt something for the young Emissary. They were bonded by marriage because of circumstances but that didn’t mean they were destined to be polite strangers in their relationship. The thought gave the forger’s daughter a measure of hope for the future and the weight on her back suddenly felt lighter.
· * * *
The trip from the land of the Shalopas would take less time than the original trip the Traders had made. They took the route across the former Pisa-tinock territory. The land was harsh and had few natural resources but it would save days from the trip.
To keep everyone from boredom the Master Traders began teaching the young women their language and customs so they would adjust to their new lives faster. Kalin laughed when Jopa mentioned that now Parren was mated he was free to pursue all the young ladies once more without having the other apprentice beating him to the blanket.
“Emissary? I take it you were…active…before you began this trip?” Kalin asked. Hyenta listened carefully, interested in the answer.
“Um, yes. You could say that,” Parren mumbled, wondering with dread if her mate would think badly of her because of it. She was afraid to look in her eyes and see.
Hanpa saw the uncomfortable looks on the young couple’s faces and knew instinctively what they were feeling. He thought intervention now would settle things.
He chuckled and ruffled Parren’s short hair. “Yes, she was as active as most people her age, its only natural. As her mentor I kept my ears open and I can honestly say I never heard a single female complaint about her and she was well thought of by their parents. I’m sure more than a few of those families will be disappointed of Parren’s union with Hyenta but most will be happy for them. They know Parren is a honorable young woman and will be a devoted mate.”
There, he thought. That should smooth the waters. He saw the young couple relax slightly as he prevented the emerging grin he felt trying to quirk his lips.
· * * *
Days later Hyenta felt the pack grow heavier as they began the gradual climb towards the mountains. The nights grew cooler and she snuggled deeply into Parren’s warmth to drive away the chill.
In spite of their physical closeness during the nights they hadn’t so much as kissed in days. Hyenta wondered if perhaps Parren now regretted the impulse to take her as a mate. She grew more nervous by the mile, worried that once they arrived she would be left alone while Parren sought companionship elsewhere. She often found herself quietly weeping at night, in the privacy of the darkness.
With no one she could speak to her worries grew to the point she felt ill. Her appetite was nearly non-existent and she was losing weight and dark circles formed beneath her eyes.
Kalin noticed the changes but didn’t know how to help the younger woman. They certainly didn’t have any privacy to speak on the journey and the girl didn’t ask for help. She felt reluctant to interfere.
Parren also saw the changes in her mate but was at a loss. Was Hyenta ill? She didn’t say that she was and she had seen the tears at night in spite of her mate trying to hide them. Hyenta would still share a blanket with her at night but didn’t show any affection towards her like she had early in the journey. Was she now regretting leaving home? Parren felt her guts tighten nervously. She didn’t want to lose her but she couldn’t force her to remain with her. The Emissary wished she knew what to do.
The next day they saw their village in the distance and hurried in eagerness to get home. The sentries greeted them as they passed by, happy at their safe return. It wasn’t very long before one person after another greeted them happily as they passed by on their way to the Rangar dwelling, where they would leave the trade goods before going to their own homes.
Parren and Hyenta was climbing towards the Emissary’s family home when a voice called out to Parren. The young woman turned and spotted Shalen, the tanner’s daughter that she and Jopa had been with before the journey. She mentally moaned, dreading the meeting.
The young woman flung herself at Parren the moment she stepped off the ladder.
“It is so good to see you home!” she exclaimed as she tried to capture Parren’s mouth in a kiss. Mortified, the Emissary grabbed the young woman’s arms and firmly pushed her away.
“Are you not happy to see me as well? I thought about you every day,” she pouted, unhappy about Parren’s behavior.
“I am always pleased to see friends again Shalen, but I am mated now and it would be unseemly to have you grab me so freely without her consent,” she lectured.
The tanner’s daughter’s eyes opened wide as she looked from Parren to the woman near them. She hadn’t paid any attention to her in her eagerness to welcome Parren home.
“Mated? To this woman?” she asked, pointing at Hyenta. Shalen suddenly felt very pale in comparison to the foreign woman glaring at her. Although tired and dirty from the journey she was still a striking beauty. Leave it to Parren to return with a woman that would have the men drooling with envy.
“Yes, to me. I know only a little of your customs here but I think your behavior far too forward with my mate,” Hyenta informed her coldly.
Shalen knew she was correct. “I offer my apologies Mate of Parren. It won’t happen again.” She nodded and headed away from them, hoping Parren would forgive her later.
Parren stood there silently, waiting for her mate to say something, which she did.
“How many times must I witness greetings like that?”
Parren turned to her and looked her directly into her eyes. “As Jopa said on our journey, I played the blanket games quite often. They were willing and I enjoyed it, but none of them tempted me to make it a permanent union. No one warmed my heart until I met you. I doubt you will have to suffer such a scene again. Shalen will pass the word around that I am taken and people will honor our bonding. I offer my apologies as well Hyenta.”
“I don’t want your apologies Emissary,” she snapped. Then what Parren had said caught up with her. ‘No one warmed my heart until I met you.’ Was it possible Parren felt more than duty for her? Her voice softened to a whisper. “I want your love, not pity.” She hung her head in embarrassment.
Parren stepped closer and placed her hands on her mate’s chilled arms. “You already have it, Hyenta.” She was puzzled, didn’t her mate already know this? No, of course Hyenta didn’t know because she never told her so. How stupid she had been.
The Achaian looked up as tears pooled from her eyes, hope skipping inside her heart. “Truly?”
Parren’s face changed from somber to heart melting as she smiled down at her spouse. “You crept into my spirit’s hiding place even before we left Acha. I just didn’t realize what it was I felt at first. Once I knew I had feelings for you I was scared. What if you didn’t want to be mated to me? I was afraid you would want to sever our bond once we reached my home.”
The smaller woman sighed sadly. “And I was afraid you felt burdened with me and regretted stealing me from my home. That you owed me your ties and considered me a duty,” she confessed.
“Is that why you’ve been crying at night?” Parren asked with concern.
“Yes. I thought you stopped showing me affection after leaving the ocean village because you now felt trapped.”
“And I thought you felt contempt for me after Jopa told you of my past. I punched him later that day, when he and I were looking for firewood. I was angry at him,” she admitted. “I didn’t want to force myself on you, so I just held you at night.”
“And I wanted to spend the evenings kissing you,” Hyenta smiled. Parren grinned back at her.
“You can have all the kisses you want. I’ll make it up to you tonight if you aren’t too tired,” she promised.
“For your kisses? Never,” she grinned.
Parren’s smile spread from ear to ear. “Let’s go meet my family and get all the excitement over with. Then I have every intention of making up for my latest bout of ignorance,” she winked.
To be continued...
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