The Dove (Prophecy Series) (7 page)

BOOK: The Dove (Prophecy Series)
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By the time they reached the palace, the tears were so thick in her throat she was afraid to open her mouth for fear she’d scream. This would be her last festival and she would be gone from everyone she loved, gone from Naaki Chava, never to return.

She stumbled. When she would have fallen, Yuma steadied her stride and his presence was an affirmation of what was promised to her in the midst of her pain. She would not be gone from Yuma. He would be always at her side and it would be enough.

 

****

 

Ah Kin had run up the temple steps into the door at the top, then down the inner stairs to his chambers. He stopped just inside the room, eyeing the place that had long been his home, remembering how he had come here as a novice.

Back then, he’d only had the gift of sight and had been taught the other tricks and deceptions practiced by the older shamans. Now he knew how to create illusion, and how to incite people with mythology and fear. He’d known everything there was to know about staying in power, and it had been enough until Singing Bird returned with the New Ones. After that, it began to go fade.

Chak, their oldest shaman, had betrayed Cayetano and died with the chief’s spear in his back. Another shaman died a year later from snake bite. One by one, the shamans died from natural causes, leaving Ah Kin as the last, and this pitiful existence was all he had left.

A torch burned from a stand near the table where he took his meals, highlighting the thin layer of dust that covered everything in the room. It was a shock, seeing it with new eyes, even more proof of how he’d been deluding himself.

He had no place to hide. He’d gambled on the visiting shamans being able to turn the people against Cayetano and his daughter, but he’d lost. He could try and sneak out while the festival was in full swing, but he was an old man and there was no way he could trek through the jungle to another city safely, nor did he have any hope of finding a place for himself there if he tried. He closed his eyes and concentrated, looking for a vision that would tell him what to do, but he got nothing.

When he began to hear voices, he panicked. Cayetano was coming. He hadn’t expected him this soon. So did he stay and face the great chief’s wrath, or end this his way now? The answer was a given as he ran into an anteroom, then to a large, lidded jar on the floor next to a prayer altar.

His hands were shaking as he removed the lid, then took a deep breath and thrust his arm into the jar, waiting for the strike. When the snake’s long, saber-like fangs pierced the flesh in his wrist and the fire began crawling up the inside of his arm, he wet himself.

The Fer de Lance venom was deadly and already coursing through his body as the thick-bodied snake came out of the jar. Ah Kin stood up and staggered backward, hit a wall and slid down onto his backside as the snake slithered to the doorway and out of sight.

Seconds later, Ah Kin’s eyes rolled back in his head as the muscles in his body began to seize. The venom was destroying tissue with every heartbeat. Soon everything inside him began to bleed. The first tiny droplets of blood came out as tears. Then he began to bleed from his ears and from his nose, then from the corners of his mouth. The voices he’d heard earlier were closer now, but they would be too late. He would escape Cayetano after all.

 

****

 

Cayetano found Ah Kin lying in a pool of blood, then saw the empty jar and the lid lying on the floor. When he saw the bite mark on his wrist, he knew what Ah Kin had done, and why.

“The Fer de Lance is loose. Find it and kill it.”

A half-dozen of his guards raised their torches and left to search the temple while the others stayed at his side, awaiting his orders. He had no empathy for the dead man at his feet and wanted him gone. He turned away in disgust as he picked out four of the guards.

“Take him away.”

The four guards saw the fury in his eyes and the jerk of muscles along his jaw and were almost afraid to ask.

“And what should we do with his body?”

He tossed his head as if the answer was obvious. “He betrayed me and he is a disgrace to our ancestors. Burn it.” He then strode out of the temple with the rest of the guards at his heels.

 

****

 

It was a relief to get back to the palace and out of the growing heat of the day. Acat was at the festival, as were most of the servants, so it was Yuma who was left to tend to Tyhen. Her behavior was strange and it was beginning to concern him.

The twins went to the kitchen in search of food, leaving them alone. When they got to her room, he took off her sandals and the heavy turquoise collar she’d been wearing, then dipped a cloth in the basin of water and began wiping her face and neck, trying to cool her skin. She was shaking, and he thought it was from the heat and exhaustion. He had no way of knowing she was still locked into a vision and getting her first taste of what it was like to be cold.

He poured some water into a cup and then lifted her head, urging her to drink.

“Just take a sip, Tyhen. It will cool you.”

But she couldn’t hear him. She was no longer in the land of cold and white, but in the jungle watching a mountain breaking apart and wondering if they were going to die. Smoke and rocks were shooting into the air while a river of fire flowed down the side, sweeping everything away in its path. In her head she was screaming the word “run,” but she couldn’t tell who was with her, only that she wasn’t alone.

Unaware of what was happening to her, Yuma poured a tiny bit of water into her mouth.

The moment it hit Tyhen’s tongue she choked and coughed. And just like that, the vision was gone. She was in her room, and Yuma was kneeling at her side.

“I had a vision.”

Yuma saw the tears in her eyes, laid the wet cloth aside, and pulled her into his lap. He smiled as she settled easily into the familiarity of his embrace.

“Tell me,” he said.

“This is my last festival.”

His heart skipped a beat. “No. You aren’t old enough to—”

“What is old enough? I have a purpose and it has been shown to me. There is nothing more to be said.”

He bowed his head and closed his eyes, trying not to think of the dangers within the impossible tasks lying ahead of them. But he’d pledged his love and life to her the day she’d been born. Now it was time to make good on that promise.

“So when does this happen?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, but soon in the days to come. There are many things I need to learn first and I will learn them from the New Ones.”

“What can I do to help you?” he asked.

She laid a hand on his chest. “Just help me stay strong, as strong as your heart.”

He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “It will be done,” he said softly. “But not today, not during the festival.”

She leaned closer.

“We will do it after the festival?”

“Yes. We will do it after.”

 

****

 

After the discovery of Ah Kin’s body, Cayetano went to find Singing Bird. He had no stomach for celebrating today, yet he would not leave her down in the city without him. But when the people saw their chief and his guards coming through the streets, they ran out with food and drink, wanting to share their bounty.

Cayetano and his guards accepted graciously and his disposition improved as the food settled in his belly. They ate as they walked, following the drum sounds all the way to the sector where the New Ones lived.

He didn’t come down into the city often, but every time he did, he could see the changes in the people’s lifestyle and the influences the New Ones had brought to their world.

The streets in Naaki Chava were made of limestone-type bricks like the playa surrounding the temple, but the small bamboo huts and thatched roofs the people had always lived in were slowly being replaced with what Singing Bird called houses, like smaller versions of the palace.

They had found different uses for the edible plants growing wild in the jungle that they’d taken back into the city and cultivated into their fields.

They trapped young tapirs in the jungle then carried them back to their homes, put them in pens and fed them out for killing as needed, instead of having to always go hunt. A few years back, some traders from the mountains had come in with birds they called chickens that laid an egg every day and raw wool, which the women turned into blankets. The cotton grown in the Naaki Chava fields, they turned into their style of clothing. Now, after some bargaining, the traders came at least twice, sometimes three times a year, keeping the New Ones in chickens and wool. In return for the shelter the New Ones had been given, they had brought a new way of life to Naaki Chava.

As Cayetano neared the houses where the Nantay brothers lived, the drumming was so loud he could feel the beat inside his chest, and the singing that accompanied it made the hair rise on the back of his neck. He didn’t understand the words. Singing Bird said it was in the Navajo language, but he liked how the rise and fall of the voices matched the rhythm of the drumbeat.

He quickened his step, anxious to see the dancers in their ceremonial dress. It was unlike anything the people in Naaki Chava wore, but beautiful just the same.

He was greeted warmly as he walked toward their dwelling, but his gaze was on the crowd around the drummers. Singing Bird would be somewhere nearby. And then he saw her still wearing her ceremonial dress, but with more feathers in her hair in the tradition of Layla Birdsong’s Muscogee tribe.

It was always hard to watch, knowing there was a part of her heart and memories that he would never be able to share, but it was part of his penance for helping create the discord that had led to Firewalker’s wrath.

Within seconds of his arrival, it was obvious Singing Bird had sensed his presence. She suddenly turned, scanning the crowd until she saw him, then lifted her arm into the air and waved.

And just like that, the spark of Cayetano’s jealousy was gone and he felt nothing but gratitude that she was alive and well and still his woman.

He moved toward her, threading his way through the crowd, and as soon as the people saw who it was, they gave way. She slipped a hand beneath his arm and gave him a questioning look, knowing he’d gone to confront the old shaman. He shrugged as if to say it was over, then turned his attention to the dancers and the drums and let the beat flow through him.

 

 

Chapter Five

 

In the ensuing days, Tyhen threw herself into the festivities and only Yuma knew why. She was making memories, and in a way, also saying good-bye to a way of life she would leave behind. While his heart hurt for her, there was a part of him that was ready to leave. He wanted to go home, even though he accepted that what was there would be unrecognizable to what he’d known. But he wanted to breathe the air and walk the land, and he believed he would feel the connection in his soul. He ached for the chance to help his people, the Cherokee, escape Firewalker’s wrath.

The third day of the festival was the day of games, and teams had been practicing for weeks. The traditional stick ball games were for the men and always a popular one to watch, but it was the thing the New Ones played that Tyhen liked best. They called it called baseball and she’d grown up playing it with the children her mother taught. Although she was a child no more, it didn’t matter. The game was played by people of all ages. They hit a ball with a stick, then ran around designated places on the ground they called bases. It was easy to hit the ball. The hard part was running around all four bases before someone threw the ball back. She had long legs and she could run. She wanted to play ball again, to run with the wind in her hair and the sun on her face and know the only thing to worry about was beating the throw that would put her out.

She was digging through the trunk that held her clothing, looking for one particular shift. It was comfortable and old and easy to run in, but she hadn’t had it on it in many months.

As soon as she found it, she stripped out of her other clothing and pulled it over her head. It was a little tighter across the chest, but that was because her breasts had grown. Even more disconcerting was the fact it was now at least a hand’s width above her knees. She pulled a little, trying to stretch it and then shrugged. It didn’t matter. She was only going to play. She was wearing sandals to walk down to the city, but she would play ball in her bare feet, and was so excited to be going that she was almost bouncing as she left her room.

Acat caught up with her in the hall and made noises about the less-than-ceremonial style of her clothing, but Tyhen just laughed and waved her away.

“I go to play ball,” she said.

“You do not go alone,” Acat said.

Tyhen frowned. “I have before.”

“But this is festival and there are many strangers in the city. It might not be safe.”

Tyhen sighed. She hadn’t thought of that. Already, the glow had been taken off the day. She was still standing in the hall, trying to figure out what to do next when Yuma came around a corner. The moment he saw her he lengthened his stride.

Tyhen’s heart skipped a beat. Just watching him walk made her belly ache. His face was pleasing to her eyes. She’d seen him without clothing plenty of times, but all of a sudden the thought of standing before him without her clothes seemed daring, even shocking. Heat rose within her, flushing her face.

Before she had time to gather her thoughts, he was talking and she had to concentrate to catch up on the conversation.

“... are you going?”

“What? What did you say?” she asked.

He smiled. “I asked, where are you going?”

“I wanted to go play ball with the New Ones, but Acat says I cannot go alone.”

He glanced at Acat. “I will take her and stay with her until the game is done.”

Acat nodded, confident she’d done her part to keep Tyhen safe. She was still uneasy that she’d let Tyhen get away from her in the market the day the big bird tried to take the baby, and didn’t want a repeat of that incident or something worse.

BOOK: The Dove (Prophecy Series)
7.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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