After a moment of her staring at you, you nod and then shake your head. She frowns, and raises her eyebrow at your motions.

“I told him I’d marry him yesterday but now I’m not so sure. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

This only deepened the woman’s frown. A second later she encourages you to sit and moves off to talk with the other elders. They mutter together in their own language for a long time, occasionally glancing back at you and you realise that agreeing to marry Temullgei may have been a bigger decision than you first realised.

Eventually the conversation comes to an end and they turn back to face you.

“This is something that normally wouldn’t be allowed. I assume Temullgei announced the betrothal to his tribe?” the eldest says. You nod. “Then we can only ask if he will relinquish his claim to your hand in marriage. Wait here while we do so.”

One of the women leaves and the rest gather around you, bringing bowls of coconut scented water and fresh clothes with them. Over the next hour they clean every inch of you and smother your face with paste, and rinse your hair in several different bowls of scented waters.

When they finish, they help you dress in an elegant gold gown and use sashes and cords to hug the material to every slight curve of your body. They then place a circlet of intertwined strands of mixed metals, designed to look like vines, with leaves of the same golds, and silvers placed in ornamental positions. On the end of each leaf a tiny jewel glinted in the sunlight.

Along with this they placed several similarly styled bracelets and anklets on and finally a large necklace with the biggest blood red diamond that hung against the top of your chest.

Just as the women were making the last few adjustments to your clothing the missing elder comes back. Right behind her is Temullgei. His face is impassive but you can see from the anger in his eyes that he’s not happy.

As your stomach flips over several times the elders all scurry from the room, leaving you along with the Khaad.

“The Khaadain has informed me that you no longer wish to be my wife. Normally, such a request is not granted by the tribal leaders, but you are unused to our ways. If you have truly changed your mind, then I won’t force you to become my wife, but I won’t hold back from expressing my anger and hurt at the lack of respect you’ve shown me.” he says, his tone sharp and clipped but still respectful towards you.

“I’m sorry, but I’ve changed my mind.”

“Very well. I will inform my tribe.” Without another glance at you Temullgei leaves. The Khaadain elders come back inside and its evident from the looks on their faces that they have heard what was said. From that point onwards they speak to you in short sentences and no more smiles cross their faces. A couple don’t even look at you. Although none of them express it, they evidently disapprove of your actions as well.

With your attire finished the eldest of them tells you what little you need to remember for the ceremony. Mostly it involves smiling, waving and accepting gifts. There is a short toast and food will be laid out at your feet most of the afternoon and evening. Then, when it is dark and you are tired, you can stand and leave. No one else will leave until you do.

With these simple instructions you’re sure you can handle what’s expected of you and hopefully regain some of the good favour you appear to have lost.

After taking a deep breath you allow yourself to be ushered back out of the small area you’ve been in for the last couple of hours. With a smile you don’t quite feel plastered to your mouth you walk the short distance to a small seat placed at the top end of the circular area. Already many people are gathered within the circle and around the outside of it, expanding out as far as you can see.

The crescendo of voices almost deafened you as you waved like you’d been told and slowly made your way to your seat. When you reached it a nearby elder came forward. Within her hands was a chalice full of a pale pink liquid. You take it, as you’ve been instructed to and hold the cup aloft. The roar and noise around you grows even louder.

When the crowd has quieted a little you bring it to your lips and take a gulp. Immediately the bitter fruity drink fills your mouth, almost making you gag. Whatever this is, it isn’t something you like, and you have to drink the whole thing.

Focusing on the level of the liquid on the opposite side of the chalice you take gulp after gulp and focus on anything but the taste. Somehow you manage to drink the entire amount but you can feel is sloshing around in your stomach.

With the cup empty the same member of the Khaadain rushes forward and takes it from you. You then take your place in the seat. Glad for the support when your vision blurs slightly. Thoughts slow in your head and you realise the drink must have been an alcohol or narcotic of some kind, perhaps even both.

As the parade of people giving you gifts begins to form you have to force your mind to focus and utter your thanks for each and every one. Many of the people bring you little objects, pretty stones, and ornaments but one or two men come swaggering up to you with slaves bearing armfuls of gifts. They each have many bare-chested men with them and when one steps further forward than the others do he opens his mouth to speak.

“Angel, I am Khaad Benrah. It is an honour to see such a beautiful Angel amongst us once more. If you ever need anything me and my dempair is at your disposal.”

You nod and thank him for the gifts but say nothing else. His words are an eerie echo of Temullgei’s.

Over the next few hours more and more possessions pile up around you, including slaves. Finally, towards the end of the evening you notice Temullgei get up from his seat off to one side. Until now you’ve barely had time to even glance his way but he has your attention now.

Just like the other Khaad, his dempair accompany him towards you but none of them smile and a quiet settles over the watching crowd. News of your recent decision must have travelled amongst the tribes represented.

Despite the stony face that he presents you with he is followed by more slaves bearing gifts. You run your eyes over them, not knowing where else to look. Immediately you can tell that they’re the jewellery and clothes he paraded past you on the first night he met you.

As he retreats back to his seat you can’t help but wonder if the crowds also noticed that his gift was far smaller in number than the showering of possessions from the previous two Khaad. He was understandably still angry. Only a few more people came to you bearing gifts after him and you wondered if the night was finally drawing towards the feasting part.

As the last man bows at you and presents you with what must be your hundredth dress of the day a commotion starts almost directly ahead of you. An entire mass of people push their way through the crowds, trying to get to you. Eventually the spectators part and another Khaad with his dempair, and most of his tribe come up to the edge of the circle.

They bow low at the Khaadain who sat off to one side, and then in your direction while you sit and wait. This Khaad’s tribe looks to be much smaller than the others around him and the members barely take up any space within the circle, but he stands tall and comes towards you. Behind him trail several slave men carrying a large canvas like object between them.

“Khaaheed, for you. A Gerd,” he says as the bring the massive object towards you. He struggles with the words almost as much as they struggle with carrying the heavy object. You think he called you Angel in their language but you can’t be sure, but of all the gifts, he’s given you one you’re the most sure you need. The tent-like canvas these people live in. You give him your most sincere thanks and the warmest smile you’ve been able to muster since the ceremony began.

With every gift laid in a pile and your slaves ushered off to set up your tent for you, the smell of hot food begins to waft your way. You realise that you’re starving and have been for some time. The groggy feeling in your head has barely subsided though and you know there’s more of the drink to come.

Thankfully the food arrives first and you tuck in, trying to ignore the people watching you take your first bites. Once you’ve eaten a little and the trays have been passed you find the tribes turn their attention to food. Feeling less exposed you relax a little, but you remain alone on your pedestal, surveying the people but not among them.

After a couple of hours your slaves return and begin carrying all your gifts to your new home. You wonder if everything is going to fit but you were warned not to reject any gifts and that means your slaves will need to find somewhere to put them. It would have been a lot worse had no one thought to give you a tent of your own. At least it meant you didn’t have to stay with the Khaadain. You would feel safer and more relaxed in your own private dwelling.

Not long after all your gifts have been moved you notice a lull in the noise around you and more people glance your way. The sun has already gone for the day and the stars are starting to shine above the fires and torches that were lit in preparation. You suspect some of the people are now waiting on you to leave.

[powr-survey label=”AotS Part 11″]

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