(A Continuing Haibun Cycle)
In the morning, Haike chafed his arms and stamped his feet to get his blood moving. His body ached, but he said nothing, getting the fire going again and moving down to the small stream to get the waterskins filled again. The woman whose name was not Namira sat still, her eyes focused on something he couldn't see. She had not spoken to him since waking.
Haike warmed his hands as the fire flared up. He had become used to people ignoring him. Even before falling into thralldom, none had coddled him. His father had been a restless and hard-eyed man, as likely to slap a child to earth as to hold them on his knee. His young wife, not Haike's mother, had sometimes doted upon him, but her nature was changeable, her temper flaring. He had not been surprised when this new benefactor had forced him to run beside her camel for many hours.
“Can you hunt, Haike?” she asked at last. The sun had moved a thumb's width above the trees. “Can you find edibles in the forest?”
“Without making a mistake and poisoning yourself and others?” Her eyes were dark, nearly black. Though beautiful, Haike could see that people would be afraid of her. Fear had never been a concern for him, but he had a vague understanding of the role it played in others.
“I have yet to sicken myself with the wrong sort of food. If I don't know the plant, I leave it alone.”
“What if you're starving?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I scratch myself on the arm, rub some of the plant on the scrape, and see if it grows numb, painful, or swollen. If it doesn't, I eat a very small amount and wait to see if I feel badly.”
“Who taught you this?”
“The women who foraged in the wood did it thus. I watched.”
Namira stood, handing him one throwing knife and a small sack of rough cloth. “Go and see if you can find some breakfast. If the sun travels more than another thumb up the sky and you haven't found anything, return empty handed. Know that I will be displeased if this is so.”
Haike took the knife. He returned a short time later with blood on his hands, the sack bulging. Dropping the food beside her, he noticed that she had taken the time to bathe while he hunted. Her dark hair still hung damp against her brow. She had her many shining weapons arrayed on an oiling cloth. The cost of them would have bought the village they had left behind, even before the Dolgur had razed it.
Namira nodded. “So you're useful for something. Now let's see if you can cook.”
He could, but not well. After sending him to the river to clean up, she lifted him up and put him before her on the camel. The animal's gait made his head feel strange, but feeling Namira's body pressed against his made any discomfort worth it. Haike knew it would be a handful of years before he would be mature enough to lay with a woman, but this didn't stop him from considering the idea. He had seen the act—the sighing and the sweat of it. He was glad that his captors hadn't elected to geld him. If he survived, if he served his purpose well enough, perhaps one day, he would learn the sensation of a woman from Namira. If not her, someone. He would be a man one day, unabridged and without need of apology.
Find the hidden thing
bring down the beast of the wild
rekindle old fires
Ask of me one thing
and I shall accomplish the task
now, without complaint
This body, in Spring,
but Summer will soon unfold
rampant, wild as wind