To Be The One
Amin squeezed his eyes shut. Crack! The sound of wood smashing against a skull was as distinct as it was nauseating. He turned to see a towering figure swaying like a tree in a mighty breeze clutching his wrist.
Obed, sprawled on the ground, lay stunned.
Eoban, rearing back for a swing, soon became pinioned by three of the largest men Amin had ever seen.
“Stop!” Amin tried to wrench free.
A new figure lumbered forward. “Enough!” The stranger stood a head taller than Eoban, but he made no attempt to physically interject. Slewing his gaze from Obed’s still form to Barak standing behind Amin and then to Eoban, he merely shook his fist like an angry parent. “You’re trespassers here! By all rights, I should put you to death!” He dropped his hand to his side. “But that is not my way.”
Grumbling erupted from the other warriors.
“I am Luge. I decide!”
Obed roused and shook his head. Eoban marched to his side and pulled him to his feet.
The stranger propped his hands on his hips. “Leave these mountains. If you disobey, my men will have their way.”
Obed staggered, rubbing his head with one hand and lifting the other in apparent surrender. “We’ve no wish to offend. We’ll leave.”
Enraged, Amin’s body trembled, his voice dropping to a growl. “I won’t go.”
Luge grabbed Amin’s tunic and shook him. “No?”
A wall holding back fear and fury burst, flooding Amin’s system. “I can’t leave! I’ve come so far to find my father— I won’t turn back now.”
The giant warrior’s eyes narrowed as he studied the boy in his grip. “You’re looking for your father?” Another shake, gentler this time, followed the question.
Amin nodded and sniffed, wiping his face with the back of his hand.
Freeing Amin, Luge glanced at Eoban. “Who is this man you seek?”
Eoban rubbed his jaw. “Neither friend nor enemy. He’s this boy’s father—the leader of a neighboring clan.”
Luge scowled at Amin. “Why did he leave? Why do you seek him here—in the mountains?”
Amin shrugged. “He was lost—out of his mind…”
Barak stepped forward. “Why waylay us? We’ve done you no harm.”
His gaze still fixed on Amin, Luge tilted his head as if appraising the boy. “I had a son about your age.” His voice grew thick. “We were attacked by raiders from over the mountain. Now my boy is gone—forever.”
Eoban leapt forward. “Have you seen a man with long black hair, slender body, and dark haughty eyes?”
Luge shrugged. “That describes many men.” His gaze slipped from Amin to Eoban. “If I found such a man, I’d send him home. This is no place for strangers. Treachery is afoot.”
With a snort, Obed glanced from Barak to the giant. “Is that what you fear? Why you attacked us?”
Luge stepped over to the smoldering fire, grunted, and gestured to one of his men.
The warrior squatted before the fire and blew the feeble flames to life. Another warrior gathered kindling and twigs and arranged them, building the flames into a small blaze.
As the fire grew, Luge crouched before it and studied the flickering light. “Few of us are left. Once we were a mighty clan, fierce hunters and warriors. Our leader was a brave man, much revered by all, near and far. But he fell at the hands of the enemy.”
Eoban stepped closer and squatted on the other side of the fire. Barak followed, sitting on his left while Amin crouched on Barak’s right. Obed remained standing, a shadow among the other men.
Luge rubbed his forehead. “They attacked at night, killed four men, and took two women and three children as slaves. We tried to follow, but they went into the desert and disappeared in the distance.” He closed his eyes. “A kingdom lies beyond the desert—I traveled there and saw it for myself.” He dropped his head to his chest. “They are like gods—living in a world beyond description.”
Obed shuffled near, his face unnaturally bright in the firelight. “I wouldn’t mind seeing that for myself.”
Luge shook his head. “Not if your son was there— forever beyond your reach.” He glanced around. “Now, we wander, aimless and hopeless. We treat all strangers as enemies because we have no friends. Our days draw to a close. We’ll pass away with no sons to mourn our loss.”
Eoban sighed. “I knew a mountain man once—a great man among great men. Gimesh led a large and vigorous clan. I cannot imagine he would let things come to such a pass. You know him?”
“These mountains are vast, but I have heard the name. As far as I know, he too bowed to this superior race. The days of the mountain men have come to an end.”
An owl hooted in the distance.
Amin twisted his hands together and peered at Luge. “My father would’ve fought. He fought against slavery and freed innocent people. He’d help you, too, if he knew your troubles.”
Obed snorted. “Your father was deranged. He couldn’t even help himself.”
Eoban glared at Obed as he stood up. “You talk too much, Obed.” He turned and rubbed his stomach. “I’m starving. What if we get some food, Luge? We could help each other survive the night at least.”
Rising, Luge meandered to Amin and tapped him on the shoulder. “I’d like to meet your father.” With a sigh, he glanced at the uneasy assembly. “As for food, yes, there is plenty—if you have the skill.”
Chuckling, Eoban slapped Luge on the shoulder. “Skill? Barak and I are two of the greatest hunters in the grasslands.”
Eoban’s eyes widened, staring hard at Barak. “Barak even fought two man-eating cats and has their skins hanging in his dwelling to prove his worth.” He flexed his arms. “And I certainly never come home empty-handed.”
Barak and Obed stared at Eoban. Amin’s mouth dropped open.
Eoban grabbed his spear. “Let’s go. I’ll wither to a mere shadow of myself.”
After Eoban, Barak, and a few of Luge’s men started away,
Amin stretched out before the fire, his head heavy with exhaustion. He closed his eyes and let sleep steal every worry from his mind.
Amin felt rested as he sat up and rubbed his eyes.
After a night of indiscriminate gorging on undercooked venison, the two groups assessed each other groggily in the early morning.
Obed staggered up to Luge. “Where are you going from here?”
Luge shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. We’ll live as best we can until our end comes.”
Eoban slapped his hand over his bag. “Wouldn’t it be better to attack your enemies and release the prisoners? Perhaps you could get your son back.”
Luge crossed in front of Eoban, waving his hand. “You’ve never seen this enemy. The vastness of their fighting force is beyond—”
Barak propped his hands on his hips. “Perhaps that’s your problem. If you would stop thinking about your doom and death and think about your life and what it means, then you could do something useful.”
Luge closed his eyes. “Our people were defeated. You have yet to experience that.”
Obed rubbed his chin. “Could you bring us to that land—the one you described last night?” He glanced at Eoban. “We’ve come this far—there’s no reason why we shouldn’t see this through. Show us your enemy—then we can talk of death…or glory.”
As Luge’s men broke into a discussion, Luge lifted his hand. “You have no idea what you are saying!”
One of Luge’s men strode over to him and argued in a husky undertone.
Luge glanced from the speaker to his other men, who waited expectantly, eagerly. Then his gaze rolled over Obed, Eoban, and Barak. Finally, it rested on Amin.
Anxiety twisted his innards, and Amin’s heart pounded so hard he grew dizzy.
Luge lifted his voice. “You want to see the enemy? We’ll take you, but we won’t engage in battle. We’d be slaughtered.”
With a grin spreading wide across his face, Eoban sauntered forward. “Who said anything about an attack?” He shrugged. “It’ll be enough to see this amazing city as you described at our hasty—though delicious—dinner. Besides, Ishtar may be among the slaves.” He glanced at Amin. “No turning back now.”
Luge swiveled around and glared at the boy. “No, he must not go! They would see a healthy boy and steal him away.”
Amin gripped his spear, squashed the tumult in his stomach, and pointed at Luge. “I won’t abandon my father. If you tie me up and drag me away, I’ll escape and follow you.”
One eyebrow rising, Eoban glanced at Barak.
Barak lifted his hands in appeasement and stepped over to Amin. “Luge is right, Amin. We’d get sidetracked trying to keep you safe.” He glanced at Luge. “I’m sure you could stay with his clan until we return.”
Panic flooded Amin, making it hard to breathe. A cold sweat broke over his skin. “But you could be killed, and I’d be left alone! Besides, I know my father better than anyone, and he’d do for me what he’d never do for you.”
Obed nodded. “If Ishtar is alive, he may not want to come with us. But if he sees Amin…” He shrugged. “It’s the boy’s life.”
Spluttering, Eoban jabbed Obed in the shoulder. “His life? Obed, take a closer look! He is a child! Children don’t think things through. That’s what adults are for. If Ishtar is alive and we find him, having Amin away will be the greatest inducement for drawing Ishtar out—assuming that’s what we want. We don’t know what he’s like now.”
Amin pounded his spear on the ground. “No! I won’t—”
Luge twisted the spear out of Amin’s grasp.
Amin clawed at Luge, wrestling for his weapon.
Barak grabbed Amin from behind and pulled his arms behind his back in a tight grip. “Stop it, Amin! You’re behaving like a spoiled child.”
Amin spat his words, his whole body trembling. “You’ll regret this, Barak.”
Reaching around, Barak grabbed Amin and turned him so that they stood face-to-face. “Only a child would put his pride above the safety of one he professed to love. You came all this way to find your father and for once we have a real lead, but now you stand here threatening us and making demands.”
Tears started in Amin’s eyes, his heart contorting as if it was being torn to pieces.
Barak loosened his grip. “A lot of good men are going far out of their way to help a man who doesn’t deserve such kindness. For love of you and your little brother, we’re risking our lives to find your father.” His jaw clenched as he gave Amin a slight shove. “A little cooperation would be helpful.”
Heaving sobbing breaths, Amin hung his head and tears coursed down his cheeks.
Luge strode over and laid his massive hand on Amin’s head. “A son’s love for his father goes beyond reason. And so should a father’s love for his boy. I’m ashamed. I’ll go with your friends. You wait for your father, and I’ll look for my son.” He called two of his men. “You two take him home. My wife will watch over him and await our return.”
The men packed the leftover venison into skin bags and filled their water pouches.
Amin sat against a tree and watched through a glassy stare. The familiar feeling of abandonment swept over him. First, his father…now this.
Before leaving, Barak crouched at Amin’s side and squeezed his arm. “Don’t be angry. We’ll return soon.” He stared at the boy’s unwavering expression. “You’re still mine by adoption. Whatever happens, you and Caleb are dear to me.”
Swallowing back the ache in his throat, Amin nodded. “I wanted to be the one to find him.”
Barak sighed. “It is every son’s wish—to do something wonderful for his father. That may yet come to pass. But for now, use this time well. Learn from these people. New experiences are worthy teachers.” Rising, Barak shouldered his pack.
Amin stood and watched the men assemble with Luge in the lead.
Obed sauntered close and ruffled Amin’s hair as he went by.
Eoban stopped and knelt before him. He held out a bone spear tip. “I was working on this, but now I don’t have the time to finish it. Perhaps you could do the job for me?”
Taking the piece, Amin studied the carved point. He nodded.
Grinning, Eoban patted Amin’s shoulder. Then he started away, whistling a happy tune.
Luge turned and frowned.
Eoban stopped abruptly. “Oh, you don’t like whistling? Well, if that’s no good, I can always sing.”
A glint of joy sparked in Amin’s middle as he watched his only hope traipse into the wilderness.
“The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other.” ~Anonymous
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