She winced a little. At 16 a girl was bound to have a rebellious streak, in time she may willingly take on her mantle as chief’s daughter but she was young yet, and foolish. She blushed a little. “You may think it sounds silly, but there is so much world out there to explore. Everyone provides for me. My mother sews me beautiful clothes, my father provides protection, even the warriors bring back food for the tribe. I want to do things for myself. I just want to live how I want to live it… you know?” Amber turned her head to look at him.
Amber fidgeted under his gaze and looked ahead. “I haven’t met anyone who understands me for the real person I am.” She said softly. “Everyone coddles me, treat me like I’m a little girl. Well, I’ve paid attention.” Amber sighed a little. “Sometimes I wish I had been born a man. At least then I would be able to prove myself.”
He nodded, looking away, "You will meet them, such is the natural order." The thatched roofs of their village began to crest over the hill ahead of them. The guards turned to look at them as they approached, aware of the fact that she had gone missing.
Amber smiled softly. “You really think so?” She looked away as they arrived at the village, hanging her head slightly. Her smiled faded into a look of sadness. She wouldn’t hear the end of it from her father, and she’d be watched closely for a while. He tired of her disappearances and it worried her mother so.
Hotah, the chieftan came to meet them, Ahote as his side, both with disapproving looks. Amber mumbled an apology as Ahote jerked the spear away from her hand.
“A woman isn’t meant for such weapons.” He said coolly. Ahote was Amber’s intended, but thus far she had rejected him.
“Explain yourself,” Hotah demanded, color rising to his cheeks. “Why is it that you keep running off on your own, daughter? Don’t you know it’s dangerous in the wild? If anything should happen to you…”
“Father,” Amber hung her head. “I have nothing to say for my actions."
Hotah looked to Asher. “Thank you for retrieving her.”
“The least you could have done is brought an escort. Ahote for instance.”
“I don’t want to be anywhere near Ahote,” she muttered in response defiantly, color spotting her cheeks.
Asher stood behind Amber as the two berated her, looking calm. She had broken the rules and was being punished for it, it wasn't his place to judge either of them. Amber did not address him further so he simply turned and walked away, heading back to the apothecary. As he walked away he glanced back at Amber looking somewhat forlorn, it had been the closest he had got to someone of his age in some time. He had no place among the leadership though and seeing her would be a challenge, he was simply a spiritual guide, one that not many visited in these dark times.
Ahote gripped the spear, turning rigid. He made a sound of disgust and stormed away. Amber didn’t even give him a second glance. Many heads turned in his directions as he moved through the village. He was attractive, Amber had to give him that, but also cold hearted and conceited.
She looked up at her father, steeling herself. What she would say next would make him all the more adamant that she not leave the safety of the village.
“Father,” she said quietly. “When Asher came to bring me back, we spotted the Eikem in the valley…”
The chief’s brow darkened. “Return to your mother, now.” He said firmly.
Asher walked into the hut where he housed his materials and refilled his pouches, no one had come by. The tribe's belief in his art had waned even before he was born, the Broken Fang was more inclined to martial arts and they were very skilled in that way. If they came against a tribe that heavily used mysticism though, it would be devastating. He walked to the window and peered outside, seeing if Amber was still in sight. If he wished he could transfer his consciousness to some small animal to watch her, but he didn't know if that was right, she was certainly content with his absence and the chief would have his head if he found out. After all, she herself had never been one for the mystics.
Amber’s cheeks were red, partly in embarrassment of being reminded of her place but also in anger at the very same thing. I wish I had been born a man, she had told Asher. She was surprised that she had revealed such an intimate wish in front of someone she didn’t know very well. Though she had been unhappy someone had come to retrieve her she found Asher had been easy to talk to. It was nice to reach out to someone her own age. Ahote was so much older than she by five years. He was the best warrior in the tribe and his stature made him a natural match for the daughter of the chief.
Behind her, the tribe stirred like angry bees when news about the Eikem’s presence spread. Hotah had already moved to action, recalling Ahote to his side to put together a scouting party. Amber slipped inside the family hut and sat down miserably.
“Never do that to me again, daughter.” Her mother’s face was pale and her hands were shaking. Amber didn’t know if she wanted to throttle her or not.
“Sorry to worry you, mother. I got a little carried away this time.”
“A little carried away? Child, you almost got yourself killed!”
Amber sulked lightly as she listened to her mother berate her. Though she was sorry to make her mother worry, her rebellious streak had been far from quelled.
Asher pushed back from the window, his curiosity getting the better of him. He walked into one of the back-rooms of his hut, various small cages hung from the ceiling and littered the floor filled with a variety of small animals. He reached into a cage and pulled out a small field mouse.
He sat down and cupped his hands around the mouse, whispering a short incantation. His eyes rolled back and his body slumped, his consciousness passed through a flurry of sensations before he was transferred to the small creature.
The eyes of the mouse took on his color as his consciousness transferred, it was the tell-tale sign of a shaman manipulating an animal. Then he scurried out of his hut and made his way towards the hut of the chief and his family. During a possession the animal senses were dulled, not quite as strong as they would normally be. He made his way slowly into the hut, looking around carefully for Amber. He did not want to intrude, but he had to see.
Ahote selected five of their best warriors. This was not an offensive move. Rather, they were there to observe those Eikem close by. This was not a time of diplomacy, quarrels between the tribes were solved in blood. If the Eikem wanted to take Hotah’s land, they would stop at nothing short of death to do it.
The men streaked paint over their faces to blend in with the earth, stripped down to their loincloths. They grabbed their best weapons and silently walked out of the village towards the valley.
Amber hung her head as her mother vented her frustrations. She was acting like a bad child, making everyone worry while she ran away. She wasn’t acting like a proper girl should, shirking her lessons and not doing her best. How would she make the proper wife acting like she did? No man would want an untamed foolish girl.
Amber stepped out of the family hut at last after her mother told her she was done shouting. Her mother had ordered Amber’s handmaiden to trail her, albeit from a respectful distance. She could feel everyone’s eyes on her as she paced across the village to find her father and make a more formal apology.
She found Hotah in a dark mood. By the look in his eye she knew she had shamed him. She knew what he wanted of her. To stop acting out and to settle down. She refused to be tamed. Amber didn’t want to be like any of the other woman, domesticated and soft of voice. She didn’t want to simply gather and sew and cook.
She idolized her father and his anger wounded her inside. She wanted to be just like him, strong and brave and afraid of nothing. Even as chief’s daughter she had no real power, no voice to change. That was a man’s position.
Amber sighed in frustration. She stopped before Hotah and looked up at him. He was tall, muscles rippled under his furs, and his features were sharp, his teeth white against his dark skin. Her mother had confided in her once that she had been very pleased to have married Hotah. She too had been a chieftan’s daughter, but unlike Amber she embraced what was expected of her from an early age.
His face was so hard to read.
Hotah looked like he was about to speak, but paused, reading the look on his daughter’s face. She looked absolutely miserable. He sighed deeply, rubbing the bridge of his nose with a hand. It was hard to stay angry. She looked so much like her mother.
“Amber, do not fret. Behave and I will not be so harsh.” He raised a hand and placed it on her head. “I cannot have my daughter running around in the wild. You must be a good example to the rest of the tribe.”
Amber lowered her eyes. “I know.”
Hotah smiled a little. “Now go run along and see to your lessons. Don’t worry about Ahote, he will return shortly.”
She had to fight to roll her eyes. He just didn’t understand that there was no love for Ahote in her heart. He was so wrapped up in the match he didn’t see anything besides what he wanted to see.
“Yes, father.” She bobbed her head and left, her handmaiden trailing after her. Inside she fumed. Her teacher was an elder named Muna. It was lucky for Amber that the old woman was partly senile. Sometimes Amber didn’t show up at all. Muna taught her everything that a woman of the tribe should know, how to take care of her husband.
Gathering parties were not Amber’s idea of fun. The women, with children strapped to their backs, or little ones clutching at their skirts, would gossip about all sorts of boring things. She would pick berries and herbs reluctantly, throwing them into a basket haphazardly as she sat far from the rest of the women. She was so unhappy.
Amber’s mind wandered towards the valley, wondering what the Eikem were doing now and how the scouting party was going. It held a hint of danger that ate away at Amber’s insides. Oh how she wished she could be there and not here. She sullenly stabbed at the ground with her digging stick.
Asher, in the mouse's body, had trailed Amber from the hut to where she now sat. It was dangerous for him to be venturing into the fields in the body of a simple mouse, but Amber had fascinated him, he was concerned with her disdain for her life. It was important for the soul to be happy in its place, and Amber did not feel that. The mouse walked slowly through the grass up to Amber, looking up at her with his viridian eyes. The creature would seem familiar to her, not by any physical means, but by the small nuances from their souls having been near to each other before.
Hmm? She looked down at the mouse as it’s whiskers tickled her knee. It’s eyes were a curious color, green. Amber lowered her head to get a closer look. The eyes were extremely intelligent and familiar somehow. Her brow furrowed as she tried to recall those eyes. Then it hit her. “Asher?” She whispered quietly.
She looked around her to look at the other women, but they were doing as they always did, gossiping and leaving her out of it, strange girl that she was. She looked down at Asher. She had heard of shamans being able to take on different forms.
“What are you doing here?” She spoke in a hushed tone. But she smiled at him. It was good to have a friend.
He would not be able to respond, mice could not speak after all, at least not in a way she would understand. He nodded in response to her saying his name though, and looked around in confusion to her last question. He had no real reason for being there, he simply had wanted to find her. His eyes showed concern, it was clear the beast was troubled.
She bent to one knee, leaning forward with her palm up to the ground so that he may climb upon it. She lifted the mouse carefully and set it on her shoulder then picked up her basket and started back into the village. The women watched her go with little interest, giving the chieftan’s daughter the cold shoulder.
She was careful not to jostle Asher in the mouse form too much, heading towards his hut. Some gave her curious glanced but at the serious look of concentration on her face they figured she was doing something important so they let her be.