If Love Were Only Part of the Equation
The light of the Blue Star seemed unusually bright that night. Sleek, blue-white rays permeated through the small opening at the front of the tent, dancing on Lycasa’s face and keeping her awake. Strange shadows raced above her, keeping her briefly entertained as she tried to make pictures out of them. Bored and tired (but not particularly sleepy) she rolled over and looked at the empty side of the bedroll where her husband Cigol should have been, had he not been on watch.
Sighing to herself and wishing she could doze off, she looked over in the far end of the tent where their children slept. She smiled fondly at their small forms in the dark; it seemed just yesterday that they were born. She would occasionally admit that she missed the days when they were infants, but seeing how much they had grown—especially how many new things they had learned and skills they had developed in their short lives—made her proud. She knew that once they were old enough, they would both become strong leaders of their tribe.
Perhaps it was her motherly instincts calling her to get up and look at them closer, or perhaps it was her own restlessness, but she nearly floated across the earthen floor and kneeled next to them. Looking down at her son, a small smile of pride grew on her face. He was their first-born, though only by moments. She brushed aside a stray lock of his thick red-brown hair. He kept it in the style of the men in the village—long and adorned with a ceremonial plait and ribbons. His single braid worn to the left side of his face let the world know he would some day be a warrior, and the red and blue ribbons woven into it were his tribal colors which he wore with pride.
She sat for a moment and thought about just how much he had grown in all of his ten years. He was an exceptionally bright child; he had mastered the language of the tribe and the language of the surrounding villages at an age younger than usual. Lately, with the guidance of his father, he had become quite proficient with a bow. It had been his arrow that brought down the springbuck the day before, and the entire tribe had eaten well that night.
She smiled thinking how his small stature would prevent him from ever being a great swordsman, but he did not seem to mind this fact. (She certainly did not—best to fight at a distance than up close in your enemy’s face!) She was impressed at how he was mature enough to accept his shortcomings and focus on his talents. And he is Gifted with the powers of the storms; he will make quite a formidable opponent to his enemies, especially when he masters controlling it.
With that thought, she turned to look at her daughter, and sighed. Although twins, they had such different features, it was hard to even notice the relation. The only common traits they shared were their small frames and kindly shaped faces. It’s strange they are twins yet she looks like me and he resembles Cigol so much. Except that hair. I don’t know where that girl got that hair! Lycasa studied the girl’s bright red-orange locks that had earned her the nickname Firetop. Such an odd combination—orange hair and blue-green eyes. Her son had inherited his father’s charismatic brown eyes, while Firetop held her gentle blue—but with a strange touch of green. And that Gift of hers…how strange is that one! A Gift or a Curse?
Lycasa rubbed her eyes the way she had many times while considering her daughter’s predicament. The girl’s Gift wasn’t elemental like her brother’s, but tied to her emotions. A respected mage from a nearby village had called the girl an Empath. What that word meant Lycasa didn’t really know, but as she understood it, whatever the girl was feeling (or whomever she was touching was feeling) was changed in her body into some kind of tangible force. This force could then be channeled into another person, but strangely enough the girl could not use it on herself. While this Gift could have its benefits—such as a tender thought and pat healing a wound—it was also possible that with a loss of temper, of control, the child could drop a man twice her size with a casual touch and an angry feeling. But the price is too high for using such magic—a temporary drain on her life-force.
It had almost happened once—fortunately with her brother and not someone else’s child—and must never happen again. While playing just a few years ago, she had gotten mad at him and grabbed his arm, as siblings do. The force that coursed through him knocked him out for a good hour, and she was ill and exhausted for days. Hence she was forced to wear soft leather gloves whenever in the company of others, and she always kept them no more than a hand span’s distance—even in her sleep.
On top of this challenge of raising the girl known to neighboring tribes as ‘The Death Child,’ the poor girl always seemed distracted; while her brother would concentrate on the chores that were assigned to him, she would daydream or even sometimes just wander off. Lycasa and Cigol had spent too many days and nights riding the surrounding woods worried sick about their daughter. But some way, some how, even if she stayed out overnight, the girl survived without even a scratch on her. “Althena is watching that one,” Cigol had told her after it happened the second time, and he was right. These ‘walkabouts’ still made Lycasa anxious though; no amount of faith in Althena, or any deity for that matter, could truly still a mother's fears. However, no amount of punishment had been able to deter this behavior, and it exasperated the tribe and the family to no end.
A noise outside dragged her out of her thoughts—the sound of a whistle. Once. Twice. Three times. Intruders! Instinctively, she grabbed her bow from near her bed and started to head out of the tent. A moment of intuition stopped her as she looked back at her son, who was now awake as well. As her placid blue eyes locked with his deep brown ones, a wave of unpleasantness swept through her mind. She put her bow down and knelt next to him, speaking softly, “Stay here. Wrap yourself in blankets, and hide your sister and yourself. Do not come out until morning. Your father and I love you. Do not forget that!”
The child looked at his mother strangely. Intruders were a common occurrence on the Prairie, but never before had she made such a request of him; never before had he seen that look of pleading in her eyes. He nodded, something telling him not to ask any questions. She forced a smile at him, trying to offer some comfort, and then she pulled a piece of paper out of her tunic and put it in his palm. “Take this. It will guide you.” Brushing some of his long auburn hair out of his face, she kissed him on the forehead and said a silent prayer to Althena. With a glance over at the sleeping form of her copper-haired daughter she sighed. As she was turning to leave, he thought he saw her wipe her eyes.
Wasting no time, the child gathered all the blankets from the bedrolls and walked over to the corner in which he and his sister had been sleeping. He started to nudge her, but her eyes were already open; frightened and wide. She opened her mouth to ask a question, but he held a finger to his lips. “Shh…we can’t talk. We need to hide.”
“Like a game of hide?” asked the fire-haired child, pulling on the gloves she had accepted as almost a second skin.
He thought for a moment. “Yes, like a hiding game. We have to be very quiet and stay under these blankets. We can’t go out until the morning.”
“But who will find us? You can’t play a hiding game if someone isn’t looking for you.”
He studied her face for a moment, thinking of an answer that would satisfy her. Finally, he managed, rather lamely, “Althena will look for us.”
The girl glared at her brother. How dare he suggest something so ridiculous? “Ashu! No really, silly! Who will look for us?”
He grimaced as she called him Ashu. He really did not like that nickname, but then again, who gets to pick what their families call them? Just like many others, his was an accident—when they were babies, she could not pronounce his real name, but only manage to run the middle of it together. Unfortunately it had stuck, but at least no one called him that but her.
Losing his patience, he threw the blankets over her and then wiggled down into them; trying to hide his form in the tangle of wool. The girl started to count playfully, and he lifted his hand to her face, covering her mouth. “Shh!!!”
The seriousness of his features, or perhaps just the fact that he was touching her stopped her counting. She looked at him with the same eyes he had just seen in his mother and said, “I’m scared, Ashu.”
He winced, pulling his hand off her mouth—it felt like a hive of bees had just attacked his palm. Shaking it off, and trying to ignore the sound of shrieks of steel on steel outside, all he could think to reply was, “Me too.”