A Continuing Haibun Cycle
“You run well.” The killer poured a few drams of the purest pale alcohol over the kindling. She struck the flint stone against the handle of a throwing dagger. Sparks showered across the pyramid of sticks and it came alight. The flames danced, throwing shadows outward. Behind her, the camel groaned as he lay down and prepared to sleep.
Haike didn't speak, only drinking slowly from the water skin. His cheeks were flushed, but he held himself straight. He had removed his boots, surely a remnant of when he hadn't been a thrall. After running beside her camel for many hours of the night, he had no complaint. He simply let his tired feet dry and replenished himself. His cool, pale eyes watched her, inscrutable, without the shame that would make most look away.
“Do you have food?” he asked. “They fed me poorly in the village.”
She nodded, getting into one of the packs and finding some dried venison. She handed him a chunk, then a marble-hard piece of unleavened bread. He ate the meat, taking very small bites and chewing each piece thoroughly. He had learned to stretch a meal.
“You do not speak much,” she said.
He shrugged. “What should I say?”
“Were you always this way, or has your ill luck caused you to be morose?” She crossed her legs beneath her and chewed a bit of dried meat.
A tiny twitch near the corner of the boy's eye revealed a moment of suppressed emotion. “I am unchanged.” His gaze hardened. “My captors and their poor treatment have only hardened my resolve.”
“What are you resolved to do?”
“To live free. To redress the dishonors I have upon my soul. To be subject to no man for as long as I draw breath.”
The killer smiled softly. “Haike, I wish you to be my initiate, my student in the ways of the Ghost Society. Do you accept my proposal? If you do not, I will allow you to go on your way. If you accept my tutelage, it will be many years, and not without danger and hardship. You will need to renounce all countries and clans, with loyalty only to me, just as I have loyalty only to my master.”
“The Ghost Society are killers of men, dark winds upon the earth.” There was neither judgment nor questioning in his voice.
“That is how we are seen. The truth is somewhat more complex,” she told him.
He shrugged again. “I will go with you and learn your ways.”
“You don't wish to know more before you swear your word to it?” She leaned forward, watching him closely. He was nearly as blank as rock. She couldn't divine what his thoughts were.
He shook his head. “I will swear, upon the hard crust of the earth, the blue veil of the sea, and the tornado of souls that awaits us all when breath ebbs away.”
She nodded. “It's settled, then.”
“What are you called?” he asked.
“You may call me Namira, though that is not my true name. You shall only know that when I am dead, and you are the master.”
Master and student
Two hawks upon the dark wind
Swear the hunter's oath
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