Alexandru's Kiss (Magic, New Mexico #3)(3)

By: S. E. Smith

Ka’ya frowned. There had been no raids against the village in almost four years. She had come across a lone raider only a few times since then. There were tales that a new leader had taken control of the Vikar and was making changes. She had seen some of those changes when she visited the city of Perth almost a year ago.

“Huntress, did you hear Elder Direwolf?” Elder Mayleaf asked, breaking into her reverie.

“Yes, Elder. I will leave at first light,” Ka’ya replied.

“Why can you not leave before dark?” Elder Mayleaf asked in a trembling voice. “The raiders could come while we sleep.”

Ka’ya shook her head. “That is why we have the boundary. The lines are secure. I checked them before I came for water,” she said impatiently.

“You will leave tonight,” Elder Direwolf ordered.

Ka’ya was about to argue, but bit back her frustrated retort when she saw the expression in Elder Direwolf’s eyes. His gaze swept the open area of the village, pausing on a young boy playing with a stick and pebble outside one of the huts. She stepped to the left, cutting off his view of the boy.

“I will leave immediately,” she quietly replied with another bow of her head.

Neither Elder spoke again. They simply turned and walked away from her. Ka’ya stared blindly at the ground until she knew they were far enough away that it was safe for her to turn to look at the boy again. Her expression softened when an older woman came out from the small hut to get him. For a fraction of a second, Ka’ya’s gaze locked with the woman’s – her mother – before her brother said something, pulling her mother’s attention away.

“Protect us, Huntress,” one of the young men by the fountain mocked, waving his hands in the air while his friends laughed.

“Off into the night with you, Huntress,” another teen taunted.

“Be careful how you mock me, peasants. While you cower in your huts, I live as a shadow in the dark,” Ka’ya said, turning to give the boys a cold, steady look. “All the lights in your hut cannot brighten the darkest corners. You never know when I might be in one of them, waiting for you to close your eyes.”

The boys remained frozen, but she saw the way they shrank back from her, their shoulders raising defensively when she took a step toward them. They parted, watching her with a wariness that spoke of their fear of her when she walked between them. Ka’ya kept her head held high. She had made a promise to herself when she was younger to never let the opinions of the others in her village affect the way she felt about herself. Doubting herself would leave her vulnerable to the jagged spears of animosity.

Her gaze swept to the hut where her mother and young brother had disappeared inside. It was dangerous to approach them too often. It was better if she acted as if she didn’t care. The Elders’ unspoken threat against her family lurked with malignant intent under every order she was given and she had no desire to give them more incentive to use her mother and brother against her.

Her father had already paid the ultimate price to protect her. They had banished him from the village nearly ten years ago when her brother was but a babe and she was twelve. All because of the mark she was born with – the mark of the Huntress.

The superstitions of the tribe were deeply rooted, and one man, Jorge, the spiritual leader of her people, used those superstitions with the same deadly accuracy as she did her bow or blade. Her mother had told her Jorge had the ear of the old chief and the other Elders long before she was born.

Her mother told her that Jorge was a stranger who appeared a few years before her mother met her father. He had spoken in an unusual tongue, but had been accepted when he saved the life of the village chief from a pack of wolfhounds. Her mother shared how Jorge had come with strange and mysterious things that he said came from the Goddess. The old chief had believed Jorge and proclaimed him their Spiritual Leader.

When the old chief died, Jorge proclaimed that he would guide the village along with the old chief’s son. By the time this happened, her father had arrived and tried to warn the son of the old chief of the dangers of allowing Jorge such power. She remembered the expression on her mother’s face – the fear – when she quietly told Ka’ya how the new chief and the Elder council had threatened to banish her mother’s entire family if her father did not cease his resistance to Jorge.

Ka’ya understood how difficult it must have been for her father. He had still been considered an outsider – much as she was – up until the day he had finally pushed Jorge too far. Shortly after her father’s banishment, the new chief mysteriously died and Jorge had rapidly replaced the Elders who stepped down with those in the village who supported his beliefs. Since then, Jorge had ruled the village with a ruthlessness that bordered on insanity. Jorge had become more reclusive in recent years, but he had also become more powerful.