Enemy of my Enemy: Present Your Gift
The High-Mother of the Libta-Thra clan emerged from her tent clenching her fists, her face twisting with anger evident even through the tattoos around her eyes, nose, and mouth. Her clan, sitting outside of the firepits eating their dinner talking about the day’s events and the following day’s chores, fell silent in respect.
I tapped my foot in the shadows, bowing my head, holding Weelin’s bridle, calming him by stroking his nose and whispering in his ear, my arm aching, wrapped in bandages, my stomach fluttering. Two other prospective grooms, Laja and Ukana, waited with me in the dark, clearing their throats, their breaths quivering.
The High-Mother, alone, without the High-Father by her side, stomped down the path between the firepits, scrabbling up into her dragonbone throne without the High-Father’s assistance, grunting with the effort. Straightening her beads and clothing, regaining her regal attitude, she lifted her hands. “We will receive the gifts of Betrothal.”
“Without the High-Father?” someone whispered, the whisper shushed to silence by the rest of the clan who shifted in their seats, readying themselves for the ceremony to begin, hoping to celebrate after.
“Laja the Saddler, present your gift.” The High-Mother sat down, her face grim.
Laja limped forward hunching his shoulders, his horse by his side, a white ceremonial sheet laying over the horse’s back. He knelt before the High-Mother. “Forgive me, High-Mother. I killed three pheasants for your people, but as I dressed the carcasses, a ferocious warrior attacked and subdued me. The thief stole my kills.”
Beyond the firepit, the clan hooted at him, laughing and mocking him. I swallowed.
“If you cannot protect yourself and your kill, how can you protect my clan?” The High-Mother shook her head, sighing in disgust. She leaned forward, pointing at him. “Begone, useless man.”
Laja took his horse and skulked away.
The High-Mother said, “Ukana the Fisher, present your gift.”
Ukana stepped forward walking beside his horse, his bandaged head hanging low, his arm in a sling, a white sheet laying over his horse’s back. He knelt before the High-Mother. “Forgive me, High-Mother. I caught a great perch as tall as yourself, but as I cleaned it, a cunning warrior ambushed me. The thief took my catch and left me by the river to die.”
The clan’s laughter rose, people stomping their feet, clapping their hands.
“Great Father in the Sky, why do you punish me so? Do my daughters not deserve strong men?” The High-Mother gazed skyward, raising her hands in supplication. She sighed once more, glaring down at Ukana. “You are of no use to me, little man.”
Ukana took his horse and slinked away.
The High-Mother said, “Neeko the Woodsman, present your gift.”
Head bowed, I marched forward leading Weelin, my heart pounding. The clan, sitting on their seats beyond the firepit, grew quiet, their murmuring fading with each step. I knelt before the High-Mother.
“What have you under your sheet, Woodsman?” the High-Mother asked.
“High-Mother, I killed for you a prong buck, but as I cleaned my kill, a warrior attacked me.” I gulped, my throat dry. “I killed the man and took the fish and the pheasant from his horse, adding it to my gift.” I stood, whipping the ceremonial sheet from Weelin’s back revealing the meats there along with the human corpse. I shoved the corpse off Weelin’s back, letting it fall to the ground, to bounce.
The clan gasped, muttering, “The High-Father?”
One hand on my sword, I peeked up at the High-Mother.
She smiled, and said, ”Gift accepted.”