Before our heroes can recover from the horrors they seen, a natural disaster threatens to strike.
By Christopher Robin Negelein
“This was the opposite of a raid,” Arwin said as he looked over the refugee camp’s meager supplies. “And I cannot call this a rescue, seeing as we were already in sore need of foraging before leaving half our supplies to the Devil Ape.”
Jia sat by him, her lips tight. “You speak too fast. I don’t understand.”
Arwin wished he had a clay stick and paper, with a few quick strokes, he could catch more than just her image, but also her essence. Putting it on paper, lets him keep all of the images and ideas that were bottled in his head. He felt like it was all slipping away in the last few days since he couldn’t write or draw.
He noticed that other artists were different from him. No matter where he went, Arwin found they only did art bound to the traditional styles of their culture. In the empire, the size of a figure was relative to his station of other people. While here in the Warring Kingdoms, artists used similar styles and colors to create archetypes. Even pictures of imperial people in Kingdom art had the same look and clothes as their eastern counterparts.
His style, was the world seen through his eyes. Jia’s sketch would look like no one else but Jia and if she had been in a picture with someone else, then she would be the size of a child because she was, in fact, a child. Unlike the small countries north of the Empire where the size of subject was based on their temporal power. Kings were huge giants while the common folk were only a few inches tall.
But that drawing would have to wait another day. It was a luxury for later, the formula for father’s păcură came first.
In mid thought, he heard somebody approaching out of the forest. With his sleight-of-hand, he pulled out his dagger so fast that Jia gasped. He started backing up towards the shoreline with Jia’s hand in his.
Luckily it was Fen, the helmsmen and the rest of Yi’s crew. There was something in their faces, everyone was looking down at the ground. Others were still blinking at the sunlit sky. But his gaze met Fen’s, he knew there was something very, very wrong. Still holding the little girl’s hand, he walked up to his sister. “What’s wrong?”
“They were like animals,” Fen said, “slaughtering every man and child that could hold a knife and then the women,” Fen stopped for a moment as tears welled up in her eyes. “But they will never harm anyone again.” Fen’s haunted eyes were something that Arwin hoped to never have to see again.
From behind the crew came a line of women that made Fen exuberant but their glazed looks would haunt Arwin for the rest of his life. His fingers itched for some paper and a brush. But one girl stopped in front of them and met his gaze with just a bit more strength. It took a moment to recognize the cheekbones, the shape of the eyes, and nose. At first, he couldn’t reconcile the mental image of full red, painted lips and soft skin dabbed pale with makeup that hid any blemish. He also had memories of hair so full and silky that it was a mane.
Some men would’ve simply stared, unsure of what they were seeing and too afraid to open their mouth and make a mistake.
That face, Arwin thought. “Is it you?”
The slave girl, that had been Ju’s translator back at the Governor’s dinner, slowly nodded as if she was afraid she would break like a porcelain doll. “Yes, master artist. It is I. And I’m grateful that you and your kind have come and saved us.”
Arwin gave a proper bow as if to an equal. “In times like these, there is not much that separate those who use might for their own gain and those who would use it for order. I am surprised and pleased that you are here but sad about the circumstances.”
And then Arwin looked down at Jia. ” I’m afraid that the job of a translator has already been taken.” He squeezed the little girl’s hand.
The woman bent down a little slower than Arwin would’ve suspected. The time in a cage had taken its toll. “And what is your name?”
“Oh that is nice,”
Something was amiss, Arwin cocked his head for a moment. “And what is your name?”
The slave girl looked at them, then looked up at him. Her smile fading “we have no names.”
But before Arwin could say anything, Yi walked up and said something passionately.
“He says with my master gone, that I should no longer be a slave. But what he doesn’t understand is that any noble can claim me now. If I was discovered, I would also be punished for giving myself a name and hiding my slave brand.” The woman translated his words not as effortlessly as before but she was quickly smoothing out her diction.
Arwin with a flick of his wrist sent his dagger in his sleeve again. “For stealing that boat, we are all criminals here. Among us, I think you should have a name, may I suggest something that I think you have a talent for?”
Fen and Yi nodded.
Fen swept up her hair, pulling up her braided locks. “What do you have in mind, brother?”
“Perhaps something about studying or being of knowledge?”
“There is a name for that,” the slave woman said. “It would be Xue. It means studious one. It is a name that works for a boy or girl.
Arwin grinned and bowed deep to her. “Then that shall be your name.” He looked up to see her aghast at him bowing so respectfully to her. At a glance, he saw Yi’s approving smile with Arwin’s charm on display.
“My name is Xue.” And then she smiled.
In that smile, Arwin saw back into the true beauty he had noticed before that had been covered by the makeup along with the pomp and circumstance of the dinner. It was like rediscovering her all over again. This time, though, it was more of a slow burning curiosity and intrigue than a burning infatuation.
Arwin offered a hand so she could stand up.