Chapter 26 Reconciliation
That was a shot, said Larra.
Sure was, Sawatis agreed. And damned close to here. Jean and I will check it out. He pointed to Larra and Melissa. You two stay here. Noticing Larras frown at being ordered about her added: You dont have a weapon, Larra, and neither does Melissa. A few hours ago you were too injured to move. Stay here and see if you can figure something out with these people. I understand you speak a little of their language.
Larra nodded. She couldnt always give the orders. Sometimes it was best to let others take the lead. And in their physical condition, she and Melissa would just hold up the two men. She motioned for one of the Suruani to come over to her. She would try to figure out a little more of their language.
Ayashe led the dark-skinned woman toward the woods. She had to help her most of the way. It was apparent that her attempt to escape from the two men chasing her had used up the last of her strength. As they gained the shelter of the trees, Ayashe felt herself feeling a little sick. Her body began to tremble and she had to let the dark-skinned woman sit down, no longer being able to support her. She knew what the problem was. In spite of her boasting to Sawatis and Lemaire, she had never killed another human being, although she had often killed game animals when out hunting with her father. She had been too excited when she had rescued the dark-skinned woman to think about what she had done. Now the realization set in. She sat down with her back against a tree. A few feet away the woman she had rescued looked at her with dark eyes that seemed to harbour a deep sadness.
Ayashe let out a deep breathe. She was feeling a little better. She thought about what she had done. She had killed two men who were beating up a defenceless woman. A woman who was encumbered with a crude restraint so that she could not fight back or avoid their blows. She had done nothing wrong. Those men had deserved to die.
Ayashe looked across at the dark-skinned woman who was still watching her intently. She decided that she might as well try to communicate with her. Tapping her chest she said Ayashe. She said it slowly and then repeated it.
The womans sad eyes brightened a little. Tapping her own chest she said Takla. Ayashe nodded and repeated the word. So the womans name was Takla. Now what else could they talk about?
She raised her rifle. The womans eyes widened with apprehension and her body tensed. Clearly she seemed to understand its use. Rifle, said Ayashe, tapping the barrel.
The woman was visibly relieved. Ray fal, she said.
Ayashe shook her head. Ri full, she corrected.
The woman gave a frown. Something had confused her, but then she repeated the word correctly. For the next while, Ayashe and Takla exchanged vocabulary. They went on to body parts starting with her hands and face and then naming the arms and legs. Takla seemed to enjoy the exercise and each time Ayashe named a body part in English she named it in her own language. Clearly she expected Ayashe to learn her language as well.
After half an hour, Ayashe was out of body parts, or at least she thought she was. There were some parts of the body she left unnamed. But to her surprise and slight embarrassment, Takla wanted to keep playing the game. She pointed to her left breast and named it, then looked expectantly at Ayashe waiting for her to repeat it and then supply the English version. The Dene girl found herself blushing furiously. She was caught in her own trap. She could not ignore the woman without seeming rude, so she named her breast. Then to Ayashes mortification, Takla pointed to her vulva and named that.
Ayashe did not know what to do. She certainly was not going to point to her most private of places and name it, but how could she get out of the embarrassing situation? It was obvious that in Taklas culture no part of the anatomy was considered taboo. She realized that this probably made sense, but could not bring herself to point to the area between her legs.
Takla sensed something was wrong. When she had first been rescued by the white girl she had been very afraid. After all, the girl had just killed two men with some sort of magical weapon. But when the girl had begun to play the name game, she had relaxed. There had just been that little bit of confusion when the girl had shaken her head when she had mispronounced the name of the rifle. Then she realized that the headshake meant no. It was a strange custom. Head shakes always meant yes in Suruani culture. But once she had figured it out things went smoothly. That is smoothly until now. The girl was not as light-skinned as the other two women had been, but. She was brown rather than white. But now her skin had darkened. Takla wondered what she had done. The girl clearly looked uncomfortable, or at least what Takla thought was uncomfortable. Her facial expressions were a little different from what she was used to. If Takla had not known she would have guessed that the girl was embarrassed, but embarrassed about what?
At that moment, she saw the girl start. Moving into a crouch the girl seized the deadly rifle and turned toward whatever sound she had heard. Takla had heard nothing, but nevertheless was alarmed. The girl turned toward her and placing her finger on her lips, signaled for her to be quiet. Then she moved her hand toward the ground. Takla understood and ducked down. For a few seconds the girl remained perfectly still and then gave a little cry. Jumping to her feet, the girl pushed through the bush shouting words in her own strange language. Takla started to follow but halted dead in her tracks a look of pure terror on her face. Coming toward her, escorted by the girl were two of the male demons that had helped the Lelawabi destroy her army.
She turned to flee, but was so overcome by fear that she tripped and fell instead. Terrified she did not even bother to regain her feet, but tried to scrabble into the woods on her hands and knees. And then Ayashe was placing her hand on her shoulder. The girls words were soothing although Takla understood almost none of them. Just one word came through. Friend, and its Suruani equivalent. Remembering her training as a queen, she forced herself to remain calm.
Who is your friend, little one, and what are you doing here? asked Lemaire. He tried not to look too stern. Secretly, he was quite happy to see the girl again. She had been a lively companion. Also, he did not want to frighten the Suruani woman who was cringing on the ground. She was quite clearly frightened. As she watched, she straightened herself and stood up to face him squarely. The sight of her exquisite body almost took his breath away. Incredible, he thought, she is as beautiful as Larra.
Sawatis was following right behind. He too was pleased to see Ayashe, although a bit miffed at the fact that she had disobeyed him. But he too saw that the Suruani woman was afraid and did not want to do anything to further frighten her.
She is a woman I rescued. She was being attacked by two men. Her name is Takla. As for what I am doing here, well I had to come. I didnt want you two getting into any trouble.
Then it was you who fired the shots? Sawatis asked.
Yes, Ayashe went a little pale. I had to kill two men. But they deserved it. They were beating up this poor woman.
Well, we already have quite a few of her tribe with us. One more wont make a difference. Can she walk?
Shes pretty beaten up. Looks like she may have been Well, you know. I think those men might have done something bad to her. Ayashe could not bring herself to say the word rape.
Lemaire went over to Takla. She shied away as he reached for her, but he gave her a warm smile and she let him take her arm. Then he took off his shirt and used the sleeves to wrap it around Taklas hips. Seeing the curious look from Ayashe he explained. These women dont wear much in the way of clothing, but they dont go around completely naked either. I think she will be more comfortable this way. As if to prove him right, Takla gave Lemaire a smile of thanks. It was the first time Ayashe had seen the woman smile.
Now, said Ayashe, you must
tell me about what you have been doing.
Did you ever find
See for yourself, answered Sawatis. Im sure that she will be pleased to meet you. We have mentioned you to her.
Ayashe nodded. Taking Taklas arm she guided her after Sawatis and Lemaire as they led the way.
Takla followed a little apprehensively. She sensed that the two white men could be trusted, especially the one who had given her part of his clothing. But she remembered what the other white men had done when she had first seen them. The main thing was that her new friend, Ayashe seemed to know them. They were walking fairly slowly so that she could keep up, staying in the trees to avoid being seen. She was glad of that. Her escape might have been noticed by now and the trees would shield her from any pursuers.
Suddenly, she heard a noise ahead of her. It sounded like many voices. But the white-skinned men did not seem at all concerned, and the girl did not pause as she strode along after them, still holding her arm. They emerged from the trees into a farmstead cut out of the woods. It was typical of all Suruani farms. A small house, and few outbuildings, and neatly tended gardens. But it was the crowds of people near the farm that surprised her. There were hundreds of her people. As she and the three white people emerged for the forest every eye turned toward them.
Taklas legs buckled. Standing only a few feet away was the white woman with the violet eyes that she had sent to the thoth, and a few feet behind her was the brown haired girl she had subjected to the rope torture. With a cry of despair, she threw herself on the knees, her head bent to the ground, and her arms crossed over her head.
Larras mouth fell open. The last person in the world she had expected to see was the Suruani queen who had sentenced her and Melissa to brutal torture. So stunned was she that she did not even noticed the presence of the Dene girl who was with Lemaire and Sawatis. She had been talking a Suruani warrior called Zana when the party had emerged from the brush. She had been trying to learn more of the Suruani language and more about the strange world she found herself in.
Recovering from her shock, she turned to Zana, who seemed just as stunned and amazed as she was. Zana, what does this mean? Why does she prostrate herself before me?
Her actions can have only one meaning, she surrenders herself to you. She has given herself as your slave to do with as you wish.
Of all the refugees of the Suruani city, Zana alone knew what Takla had done to Larra and Melissa. As a member of the queens personal bodyguard she had been present at the humiliation of both women. She was now a bit emotionally overwhelmed by the shock of her tribes defeat, and the sudden appearance of Sawatis and Lemaire. The surprising return of her queen had left her badly shaken and uncertain of how to respond to the situation.
Larra and Melissa stared at the prostrate queen of the Suruani. It was clear that she had been cruelly treated. He back was covered with half-healed welts, and her body had been beaten black a blue. It was obvious that she had been badly treated. But this was the same woman who had sent Larra and Melissa to brutal punishment and had smiled cruelly while they suffered, clearly enjoying the pain of her victims. Larra thought of the men she had killed for similar crimes against her. Under normal circumstances, she would not even have second thoughts about treating the dark queen the same way. But these were not normal circumstances. The Suruani were now a defeated people and it was clear that their once mighty queen had been humbled.
She turned to the dark warrior standing beside her. What was done to your queen, Zana?
Zana told her, having been forced to observe much of Taklas humiliation before she left the city. She was not a witness to her degradation at the hands of the quarry gang, but she knew of it and explained in exquisite detail what the ordeal would have been like.
Larra took a deep breath. Stepping forward, she placed her hand on Taklas shoulder. The queen still had her forehead pressed to the ground. Rise, Takla. No one debases herself before me. Go with Zana and find a healer. I will speak with you later.
Larra turned away. She did not entirely trust herself not to change her mind. But somehow, she knew that she had made the correct decision. Cruelty was a learned behaviour. Suruani society was cruel because its people had been taught to be cruel. Perhaps by showing mercy to the leading member of this society she might be able to effect a change. Only time would tell.
Her brief excursion and encounter with the Suruani queen had left her tired. She was still feeling the effects of her severe ordeal. Now she wanted to rest, but first she had to meet the newest member of her expedition.
Ayashe was standing nervously in front of
her, shifting her weight from one foot to the
other. The girl was somewhat
in awe of the beautiful violet-eyed woman whom she had been told so much
about by Sawatis and Lemaire.
Larra, of course, knew nothing about Ayashe and was most curious to
discover what a native of northern
For the next hour, all of the adventurers exchanged stories, bringing one another up to date, then Larra called for Zana. The female warrior trotted up to her. Larra gave her a smile. It was interesting how in only the short time she had been among these people that they had come to accept her authority. They had done the same for Sawatis and Lemaire, also, but Larra sensed that was out of a sense of fear. The two woodsmen were regarded with awe and fear by the women because of their impressive size and the weapons they carried. But they were not comfortable taking orders from men. Despite the fact that only two days before they had been torturing her with enthusiasm, they gravitated toward her in a way that they did not for Sawatis and Lemaire. Larra found this quite amusing. Sawatis and Lemaire found it confusing and a little irritating. It was a total reversal of the norms in western society.
The female warrior fell to her knees before Larra. Ive got to stop them from doing that, she thought. It was amazing how quickly things could change. The Suruani were now treating her as some sort of goddess instead of a demon. Please get up, Zana. I am not a goddess, I am a woman like yourself. She and Zana had gone over this before.
As you wish, my queen, Said Zana rising.
Im not your queen either. Or the queen of anyone else. Please just call me Larra.
But, my queen Larra, How can you command the make demons if you are not a queen?
They respect me as a woman, Zana. I have proven in my world that I can be as good as a man.
Of course you would be as good as a man, said the warrior, confused. All women are superior to men. That is why they serve us.
Larra shook her head. It was going to take awhile to change the attitudes of Suruani society, and she doubted she had the time. I want you to tell me about Queen Takla. I think I understand why she abused me and my companion, but I would to know more about her.
That was a mistake, answered Takla. She believed you were a demon because of your huge size and strange skin colour. But she has paid for her error. She is no longer queen.
Larra started to smile. She did not think of herself as huge or possessed of strange skin colour. But the last part of Zanas remark made her frown. What do you mean she is no longer queen?
She is no longer a virgin. Only a virgin may be queen of the Suruani.
What happens when a woman wishes to marry or have a child? Larra asked.
Then another virgin from the royal family is chosen to rule. And the old queen steps aside.
Larra nodded. That explained why Takla was so young. Who will succeed her now that she has lost her virginity?
Zana shook her head sorrowfully. There is no one of rank left to succeed her. Normally her successor would be selected from the royal guard, as all members of that body are related to the queen, but most members of the guard were carried off by the Lelawabi.
But were you not a member of the guard? asked Larra.
Tears suddenly came to the warriors eyes. Yes, she said, bowing her head. Her lower lip quivered.
Without a word, Larra took the Woman in her arms. Zana wept quietly, her head bowed against Larras chest, as if ashamed of her weakness. Larra stroked her hair. There is no shame, Zana, she said. When you are taken against your will, the shame is on those who defiled you. You must believe in yourself.
Zana did not reply, but cuddled in more tightly to Larras shoulder. At that moment, Melissa showed up. She raised her eyebrow, giving Larra a silent look of inquiry. I need to speak with the dark queen, said Larra, speaking in English so that Zana would not understand. And I need you with me.