A New Light
—Grasslands and Hill Lands—
Tobia sat next to Remy before a glowing fire with Remy’s men, Jonas, Obed, Onia, and his little sister, Mari, seated in a semicircle on the other side.
A full moon rose in the evening sky. Birds sang their goodnight songs from nests built among the swaying grasses as a refreshing breeze swept through.
Laughter erupted between Remy’s men as they discussed their return trip home the next morning. Remy listened and laughed along with them, sampling from various platters of barley bread, roasted quail, wild rice, and early onions. Flasks of thick mead sat within arm’s reach.
After swigging down a bowlful of mead and eating enough to fill his belly, Remy tapped Tobia playfully on the shoulder. “So, when will you come to visit me and my sister, eh?”
“I’m not at my full strength yet.” A blush burned in Tobia’s cheeks. “And my family needs me…”
Remy’s men chuckled, sweeping glances between Remy and Tobia. One man spoke for the rest. “If Remy had his way, he’d race us all home. But since he’s so old and worn out now, we’ll have to carry him the distance.”
Flicking a twig at the man, Remy laughed. “I’ll have had a long night’s rest by the time you stagger in.”
Obed snorted and took a swig from his bowl.
Jonas frowned and turned to her guest. “I want to thank you again for all the aid you gave Tobia. You’ve been a valuable friend. More than we can ever repay.”
A sly gleam entered Remy’s eye as he focused his gaze on Tobia. “Oh, he can repay our kindness any time he wants.”
Obed wiped his mouth, his eyes narrowing. “How?”
“I happen to have a very beautiful and good-hearted sister…and she’s taken a liking to your son.”
Tobia glanced around and met a dozen eyes staring at him. He sighed, his shoulders slumping as he stared at his scarred hands.
Obed reached over and teasingly smacked Tobia on the shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I hardly know—”
Obed rose shakily and swung his bowl into the air. “I propose that we invite Remy and his sister to return for a feast in three months—”
Jonas tugged on Obed’s legging. “Stop! You can’t do that. It’s rude to ask them to travel here again so soon. They’ve already done so much.”
Obed swayed, his voice slurring. “You’re right!” He glanced at Tobia. “Stand up, son.”
Tobia swallowed back a bitter taste rising in his throat and stood beside Obed.
Obed flopped his arm around Tobia and gazed into his son’s eyes. “She’s beautiful?” he asked, his breath pungent.
Tobia clenched his jaw and looked down as the men around him chuckled and his little sister giggled. “Yes, and kind. And I’d like to see—”
“Then the next full moon, we’ll visit Remy’s village! As your father, I should meet the family.” He nudged Tobia in the chest. “That’ll give you cause to rebuild your strength.” He refilled Remy’s bowl.
Remy rose and saluted Obed, sloshing the mead. “I look forward to that day. The preparations shall begin the moment I get home.” He beamed at Tobia. “Kamila will rejoice.”
Remy’s men stood and cheered, pounding their spears.
Jonas climbed to her feet, gripping Tobia’s shoulder. Her eyes locked onto her son.
His heart tearing in pain, Tobia clenched his hands at his sides and forced a smile.
Eoban shrugged. “Whatever makes you happy, Jonas. I’ll do my best.” A dead weight settled in his gut as he watched her hurry back to her dwelling in the bright light of a new day.
Heading home, Obed strolled by, glanced in Eoban’s direction, and changed trajectory, intercepting his friend.
A flock of geese flew overhead in perfect formation, honking as they went.
Eoban exhaled, threw back his shoulders, and mentally prepared himself. He muttered under his breath. “Should’ve gone hunting.” He acknowledged Obed’s nod with a nod of his own.
“What did Jonas want?”
“She wants me to go with you to Remy’s village.”
His eyes still bloodshot from the previous night’s revelry, Obed’s jaw clenched as he flashed a glance at Jonas hanging fish on a line. “Why?”
“You know Jonas. She worries.”
“She thinks I’ll get lost or captured?”
Eoban rubbed his neck and wished he could fly away with the geese. “I think she’s worried about Tobia, and that—”
“His father will push him into something he’s not ready for?”
Eoban held his tongue in check.
Obed’s eyes traveled to the hills where dots of black and white sheep grazed and stick-like boys played on the grass. “In that case, I’ll take Onia with me. Perhaps I can be trusted with one of my sons.”
Two emaciated dogs quarreled over a bone, creating a racket.
Eoban frowned and raised his voice. “Listen, Obed. Jonas loves you. She worried the whole time you were a prisoner. She’s a mother too, and she can’t divide her emotions up into reasonable parts. She’s been afraid for so long, it’s become a way of life. Don’t be angry that she wants an extra man to help out in case there’s trouble.” He shrugged. “There could be trouble.”
“Barak isn’t coming?”
“No sane man would ask Milkan to let him go.”
With a snort, Obed nudged Eoban. “You’re right. I’m being unreasonable.”
Eoban dropped his gaze. “Truth is…you and Tobia may behave yourselves on this trip…but I don’t know about Remy.”
Obed scowled. “Why? He’s an exceptional fighter and a strong leader.”
“Yes, but he’s a terrible singer.” Eoban whapped Obed on the back and called over his shoulder as he strolled away. “It’ll be up to you to lead the chant during the wedding ceremony.”
Tobia woke early on the morning of their departure and forced down a breakfast of roasted fish, rice, and toasted grains mixed with fruit and nuts.
Onia stood near, shuffling from foot to foot.
Tobia swallowed his last bite and wiped his mouth.
“What’s wrong with you? Aren’t you going to eat?”
Onia shook his head, one hand gripping his lean belly. “I can’t.” He glanced toward the hills. “When are we going to start?”
With a bulging bag slung over his shoulder, Obed marched toward them.
Tobia wiped his hands and stood, willing himself strength he did not feel. The thought of Obed meeting Kamila turned his legs to water. One sidelong wink and Kamila would know what his father really thought of him.
Grim-faced, Jonas paced close at Obed’s side.
“We’ll leave soon enough.”
Tobia dropped his tone to a whisper. “You’ll soon wish you were home again.”
Onia frowned and stepped aside.
Obed stopped beside his brother and nodded at the crumb-strewn tray. “You’ll get a stomach ache walking off all that food.”
Jonas squeezed her husband’s arm and peered at her son. “He’s young. He could eat a whole hog and then run till the sun sets.” She glanced from Onia to Tobia. “You’re ready?”
Onia’s legs jiggled in the anxious waiting.
Obed frowned. “Calm down. You’ll wear yourself out before you even leave.”
From the far side of the village, Eoban hustled forward. As he neared, the glint in his eye shone brighter. “Everyone ready?” He jutted his chin at Obed’s bulky bag. “What’ve you got there?”
“Just a few items to trade, if they’re interested.” Obed nudged Onia. “Get that other sack I filled.”
A frown deepened between Jonas’s brows. “I thought this was just a friendly visit?”
“Trade is friendly.” Obed pulled her close, kissed her cheek, and whispered in her ear. “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine.” He glanced up as Onia jogged forward with the second, larger bag. “Come on; the sun won’t wait, and Remy will think we’ve forgotten our promise.”
Eoban snorted. “Once he sees those bags and Tobia’s smiling face, he’ll forgive any delay.”
All eyes turned to Tobia.
Forcing a grin, Tobia nodded and pointed to the hills. “Let’s go.”
Eoban tapped Onia on the shoulder. “Get in front. Might as well learn how to lead when you don’t know where you’re going. I do it all the time.”
Jonas stared at Tobia, their gazes joined in understanding. She kissed his cheek and let him go.
Tobia stepped forward, glancing back at Obed’s bulging sack, feeling the weight of it on his shoulder. “We’ll take a direct path this time and perhaps we won’t lose anyone.”
Tobia saw Kamila first. Though the journey had been swift and direct, the return to a site associated with so many painful memories wearied him. Only her smile encouraged his lagging feet the last steps.
Remy sprinted to him, his arms wide in welcome. The whole village surrounded the visitors, grins on every face.
Thrusting his bag into Eoban’s arms, Obed jogged forward and gripped Remy’s hand. “Well met!” He surveyed the crowd and stopped at Kamila who stood at Remy’s side. “This must be the beauty everyone told me about!”
Standing next to Eoban and watching the scene, Tobia clenched his jaw.
Eoban pressed the young man’s shoulder. “Obed is just showing off. Don’t get impatient.”
They waited and watched.
As Obed chatted with Remy, Kamila peered around his shoulder. She met Tobia’s gaze.
A flush worked over Tobia, embarrassment fighting with irritation. He marched to Obed’s side and nodded to Remy first. “Good to see you again.”
Remy laughed and pulled him into a bear hug. “Well met indeed!” He turned to the watching crowd. “Let the feasting begin!”
Tobia’s attention shifted to Kamila, and their eyes met.
Twisting her hands, she blushed and glanced at the villagers. Everyone scurried to attend to food-laden tables and a dressed goat roasting over an open fire pit.
Tobia shuffled in place and bit his lip.
Eoban shoved Onia toward the tables. “Go help out and get me a snack. I’m famished.” He strode to Tobia, nodded at Kamila, and grinned. “You two take a walk somewhere. Find out if there are any enemies ready to attack.”
Kamila’s eyes widened.
Tobia snorted and took Kamila’s hand. “We better go before my father and Remy take notice and—”
Kamila gripped his hand, and they darted into the woods.
Tobia’s spirits rose to new heights and his full stomach settled in contentment as a full moon rose in the night sky. Kamila grinned at him with her usual confident composure, and Obed had not touched his trade goods.
After helping the women clear the dishes and trays away, Kamila returned and perched on a log next to Tobia. She pointed to three new huts on the west side of the village. “Remy and the men built homes for our new elders. They’ve earned their keep in a hundred ways since they came, watching the children, nursing the sick, assisting new mothers.”
Tobia shook his head in wonder. “I’d never have thought they had it in them to be helpful. They were so anxious and troublesome on the journey.” He glanced at her. “I felt terrible leaving here…just dropping them into your hands for safekeeping.”
Kamila tilted her head, her dark eyes sparkling in the firelight. “You’ve had troubles of your own, Tobia. Too many troubles for one so young.”
Sudden tears startled Tobia. How could she see into his heavy heart and understand his grief? He swallowed and took a firm grip on his emotions. “I’m not young…not really. My mother said I grew old the day my father died.”
Reaching out, Kamila placed her hand over Tobia’s. “I lost my parents at a young age, too. I understand.” She nodded at Remy, who laughed at something Obed said. “He’s been father, mother, as well as brother ever since they died.”
Tobia laced his fingers into Kamila’s. “I’m sorry. I forget that others have lost more than—”
Sliding off the log and sitting next to Tobia, Kamila leaned in. “It’s not like that. There’s no comparison. We all grieve our losses and endure painful trials. But helping others makes us less lonely along the way.”
“Can I help you, Kamila?”
A smile twitched on her lips. “I think so—”
A shout turned their heads.
Onia stood hunched with both trade sacks over his shoulders.
Obed nudged his youngest forward while glancing at Remy. “See what I’ve brought, my friend.” He turned and waved the crowd closer. “Come and see if there’s anything you’d like to trade for. My clan wants to embrace you all as brothers and sisters. Let’s exchange goods.”
Tobia dropped his head to his chest. “By the stars. He’s becoming more like Eoban every day.”
Eoban stepped up and pressed Tobia’s shoulder. “I was never so obvious.”
With a shrug, Kamila laughed. “He’s happy. Making deals and showing off his wares is like medicine to a man. Besides, trade with the wider world will do us no harm. And it’s a natural preparation for the wedding exchange.”
Cold fear swept over Tobia. He glanced at Kamila’s serene face. How does she do it?
Obed’s face glowed, reflecting of the firelight, and Remy laughed uproariously at a joke Onia cracked. Obed clapped Onia on the shoulder and never once looked at Tobia.
Kamila peered through the dim light. “You don’t look well.” She stood and tugged Tobia’s hand. “You need a different kind of medicine.”
Glancing at Eoban, Tobia’s heart jumped to his throat as he climbed to his feet.
Eoban nodded to an empty hut on the edge of the village. “A little hug won’t hurt. Mind you, I said a little hug. Go on. Take your time. I’ll make sure they stay occupied.”
Stepping into the shadows, Kamila grinned and beckoned Tobia to follow.
Tobia halted and glanced from his father and the villagers clustered together, to Eoban who crossed his arms and turned away, to Kamila who waited with one inviting hand extended. Warmth spread over his body, and thunder, like an impending storm, roared in his ears. He gripped Kamila’s hand.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~
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