After waiting a few minutes for your servant girl to come back, you give up and encourage your horse forward yourself. You cannot wait in the shadows any longer while danger could be closing in around you. Instead you will meet whatever awaits head on.
The first thing you notice are the charred remains of several tents and women crying over ruined possessions and dead men. Further in from that, many more of the tribesmen are still on their horses and several times you have to steer out of their way as they scurry past. For now everyone ignores you.
Even deeper into the temporary village you find yourself lost. All the canvas homes look the same and everyone nearby continues to scurry around in a busy fashion and ignore you and the horse you ride.
You turn this way and that, trying to find the centre and your own tent, or a rider you recognise, but you just find yourself even more lost. This continues for several minutes until you stop the horse to try and get your bearings or ask someone to direct you to the Khaad.
Once your horse has stopped you try to pinpoint anything that might mark the wealthier part of the tribe but the tents that are still up are being hauled down while you sit and watch. The tribe will be on the move again.
The grip of a hand on your arm makes you jump. One of the men from Temullgei’s dempair has ridden up beside you without you noticing. He doesn’t let go, but mutters something under his breath and reaches over with his other hand to take your reigns.
After tying them to his own horse he leads you away with him, giving you little choice but to hold on and hope he is taking you back to Temullgei and you can ask what has happened.
You were evidently going in the wrong direction because he soon has you turned around and going almost back the way you’d come, but it’s another half an hour before you reach the centre of the large tribe. By then almost all the tents are packed into small piles and carts are laden.
It doesn’t take you long to spot the familiar litter and you are led right up to the mobile sleeping area, where a different servant girl ushers you inside and places a selection of foods and drink around you as if nothing has changed.
No sooner has she gone than you feel the jolt of being lifted and the sway of movement as you’re carried along. You wish you’d been given the opportunity to talk to Temullgei about what happened but resolve to ask him when you next get a chance to. If anything had happened to him, you feel sure that you’d know about it already.
Hours pass while you waited in the litter, but for the first day since you arrived in this strange place you aren’t too hot. The trees form a canopy of coolness over the path the tribe take and keep the litter out of the sun in the hottest part of the day.
Making use of the time, you catch up on the sleep you lost earlier and eat what you wish while you don’t have to give preference to anyone else. It’s hard to get used to the rituals and customs of the people around you when it could be so easy to offend them.
Long before you would normally halt, you start to hear the sounds of people talking and cheering and a few minutes after that your litter is placed down somewhere. You suck in your breath, wondering if you have arrived at the Khaadain, but you have little time to wonder, before the flap is pulled open and Temullgei himself ushers you outside.
You take his hand and allow him to help you to the ground. The second you emerge cheering and yelling erupt around you.
“Smile, Angel,” Temullgei whispers in your ear whilst he leads you towards his horse, which stands waiting in a forest clearing. You do your best to obey and look happy for the people all staring and cheering at you.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” you say as he gives everyone a moment to look at you.
“You were worried?”
“Yes, I had no idea what was happening. It sounded like the tribe was attacked.”
“It was. Another tribe heard that you were with us and came to take you. I sent, Melisha, your servant girl to take you somewhere safe. I’m sorry she failed you, my Angel. I had her beaten for her disobedience.”
“But she did take me somewhere safe.”
“Johef told me he found you lost in the camp.”
“Then she failed at her duty, but you are safe now, my Angel. Come.”
As he did the day before, Temullgei places you on the horse and gets up behind you, holding you steady with his arms and torso. The conversation is evidently over but you feel dreadful. Your earlier decision resulted in someone being punished. You wonder if it might have been wiser to have listened to her and stayed under the trees.
The path continues out the other side of the clearing and you lead the entire tribe through the people lined descent into a tree filled valley.
Along the side of the road at regular intervals are statues, some of great people, others of animals, mostly horses and in between are many women, old men and children, all smiling, waving and whooping in delight at seeing you, but you struggle to smile back.
“I sent riders ahead, to let them know I’d found you,” Temullgei explains in your ear. “Now they can prepare the feast and our wedding before we’re even there.”
You inhale and nod. Things are progressing quicker than you’d ever imagined they would.
It doesn’t take long for the procession to arrive at the centre of the Khaadain and Temullgei stops the horse. You’re in front of a large half outdoor, half canvas covered circle with several large seats at one end and many small circles of cushions and small tables around the edges. Stones, shells and jewels decorate the various parts of the construction and it’s obvious this is a major focal point for these people.
When you’re on solid ground Temullgei takes your hand again and leads you forward. Five chairs sit at the top of the circle and each one has a wizened old woman sitting in them.
As soon as he’s taken you within a few feet he bows. You do the same but laughter erupts around you and he gently nudges you to your feet again.
“Welcome, Angel,” The middle of the women says and stands. “Come.”
She gives you a warm smile and ushers you towards her and the others. As soon as you draw close they all pat you lightly on the arms and encourage you through a curtain to a cushioned room.
“Here, we will get you ready to present to the Khaadain and all the Khaad who arrive in time. Do not fret, the ceremony is very easy for you and I’m sure you will get used to our customs soon. I understand that you have also agreed to marry Khaad Temullgei, and join yourself with his tribe?” she asks when the six of you are alone in the room.
Her words are soft and gentle and it’s evident that her and the women around her understand your language as if it is their own. For the first time since you arrived you are with people sympathetic to your situation and feelings. You also realise that this is likely to be the last time you could change your mind in marrying Temullgei.
[powr-survey label=”AotS Part 10″]
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