Wind Walkers: A Stranger

Wind Walkers: A Stranger

A Chapter by J.A. Marquez
"

Bethany's curiosity leads her befriend the stranger. Her father arranges for her to acquaint herself with her suitors, but she quickly sends all but one away disappointed.

"
The men who had accompanied the stranger back to the camp were seated with legs and arms splayed in the grass at the center of the common. Their wives dabbed at their foreheads as they recounted their story. They had been gone no more than an hour when a loud snapping of twigs was heard at their flank. The group stilled and quieted and again they heard the noise. Ravenous and eager to make a kill one of them had spun around and shot into the trees wounding the stranger who was now holed up in a basket guarded by the healers. Bethany listened in from her own wicker home, picking up bits of the story as it circulated through the camp. Fear and curiosity brimmed inside of her. She had never met someone from outside of the tribe. It was forbidden for anybody except the chief and the traders to go into other tribes. This would be only to get supplies, never to build an alliance. The wind walkers were a solitary people and they liked it that way.

When it seemed that the flow of the day had returned to normal and the arrival of the stranger was reduced to idle gossip, Bethany made her move. With her arms casually dangling at her side's and a carefree gait she sauntered to where the stranger was tucked away. She checked that nobody was watching before ducking out of the common and into the open land so that she could approach the balloon without being seen. When her fingers touched the basket she very slowly rose until she was peering over the edge at the wounded man. Surprisingly he was awake and met her eyes the instant they were in view. Bethany stumbled away.

"Are you hurt?" He whispered from behind the barrier.

Bethany steadied herself and stood once more.

"I'm fine, thank you."

She took a pause to observe the unfamiliar person. His skin was like melted caramel, smooth and dark. Bethany's own complexion was a far contrast of milky white. And unlike her blonde tresses the stranger had thick, dark, short hair that did little more than cover his scalp. His eyes were deeper than the trenches of the sea and colored a rich jeweled brown. On his bare chest was a long and jagged scar that looked more like a birth mark. Bethany was awed by him in her girlish and naiive way. Without thinking she blurted out.

"I've never seen anyone like you."

A discerning look twisted his face.

"I mean someone so -" she stopped before completing the thought.

"Handsome?" The stranger finished with a cheeky smile.

Bethany felt her face burn with color. What a fool she was making of herself.

"What's your name?" He asked her.

"I'm Bethany," she stammered, "daughter of chief Roon."

He raised his eyebrows a tick and then a slick grin spread on his lips.

"Well, your highness, what can I do for you?"

Suddenly Bethany realized that she had not come up with a proper excuse for this fraternization. She quickly scoured her thoughts for any reasonable explanation as to why she was so boldly conversing with a stranger.

"On behalf of the wind walkers I wanted to apologize for your wounds and offer you a place at our last light feast." Relief swept over her.

"I'm not so sure your father would like that." The stranger said. "He seemed pretty intent on leaving me in the woods to die. I think I've taken enough hospitality from you."

Bethany was astounded. Never would she have guessed that her father would even suggest something so disgraceful. Clearly the man had no intentions of hurting anyone or he would have when he had the chance. Leaving someone to die was beyond dishonorable, even for a solitary tribe.

"I'm so sorry." She apologized for the chief. "What's your name?"

"Gomez, son of - well, nobody."

More heat flushed Bethany's cheeks. He was without a tribe - an outcast. No person in their right mind would try to survive alone in the open lands. The few who did were exiles and those of unsound mind. Bethany wondered warily which of these categories Gomez belonged to. Either way he was all but untouchable, but perhaps she could take comfort in knowing which it was.

"I chose to leave my tribe." He said as if reading her mind.

"Why would you do that?" Bethany drew back from him uneasily.

"I had my reasons. Besides I'm doing well on my own."

Her eyes drifted to the freshly sewn hole in his thigh.

"Except for that, but it should heal enough in about three days time and I'll be right as rain."

"We won't be here in three days."

Gomez paused, momentarily stunned and then seemed to shrug away all apprehension.

"Where will we be?"

"Oh, no. I meant that our tribe is leaving tonight after the last light feast. We never stay anywhere longer than one day. And the chief never brings along outsiders."

Another shrug from Gomez.

"I see. I'll make my way, no need to worry."

Out of the corner of her eye Bethany could see movement in the trees. The men were returning from the hunt. She crouched low so that she was hidden from view.

"Wait, where are you going?" Gomez whispered loudly.

"I shouldn't be talking to you." She hissed back. "I have to go."

Before he could protest she scurried back into the common and started toward Lydia. There was nobody else she wished to confide in. The other women would spread her words like a wildfire and her father would quickly catch wind of her secret encounter. Lydia would not speak a word. Loyalty was not only a part of her craft, but it was her nature. She looked up from her cookpot and eyed Bethany knowingly.

"What have you done now?" She teased.

Bethany tossed back her head and laughed.

"Why do you assume I've done something?"

Lydia sighed and patted the ground next to her. Bethany sat close so that she could speak without being heard by the others.

As she leaned in to tell Lydia about Gomez the men came tramping into the common. The chief led the way and to each side of him there seemed to be a small congregation of young men. Directly at his left was Caleb, perhaps the most adept hunter among the wind walkers. Over his broad shoulders was slung a speckled doe limp and lifeless. A loud chatter buzzed about the camp as Caleb tossed the carcass on the plywood table.

"I spoke to the stranger." She whispered to Lydia.

"You did what?" Lydia's shock and consternation projected her voice far across the meadow.

Bethany shushed urgently.

"Please don't tell anybody. I had to see him up close."

"But Bethany he could have hurt you. Don't you think that was a little reckless?"

"Maybe it was, but I don't think he wants to hurt anybody. He's all alone. The last thing he should be doing is making enemies."

"Alone? As in exiled?" Lydia's green eyes were nearly bursting with trepidation.

"No, he says he left his tribe. He wouldn't tell me why."

Lydia shook her head scornfully at her friend.

"He was probably cast out, Beth!"

"I don't think so." She remained steady. "You would have to meet him to understand."

Exasperated, Lydia stood and paced around the pot. Bethany watched as the smooth ivory of her face wrinkled and stretched forming a pensive frown.

"Calm down. I'm okay aren't I?"

Suddenly her green eyes seemed to spark with a burning glow.

"This is why your father wants you married. You don't think before you act."

It was a cool blow. Bethany hardened her gaze, hurt by Lydia's accusation.

"Thinking is your job. Mine is to lead."

"Bethany, come here." It was her father calling from the other side of the common.

Without hesitation Bethany stood and breezed past Lydia. The grass beneath her toes was warm and damp and it soothed her. At her back she could feel the sun, but she could also feel Lydia's eyes following her like a mother hen. Standing around the table were all of the young men that had been tailing her father as they marched back into the camp. Caleb was bent over the doe giving thanks for her flesh. He stood as Bethany approached.

"Bethany." He said and nodded his acknowledgement.

"Caleb." She returned the gesture of respect.

Then her father raised himself above the small crowd on a sturdy crate. With a wave of his hand he silenced the men and then he turned to face his daughter.

"Bethany, my daughter, it has been made known that you are marriageable. Each of these fine young men has offered his best prize for your hand, but I will leave the choosing up to you. You have until this time tomorrow to get to know each of them and make a decision."

Disgust threatened to show plainly on her face. With a polite smile she glanced at the nine hunters who stood before her. They were all well built and able to provide, but Bethany found herself repulsed by them. Most of all she found her self repelled by Caleb, whom she knew her father expected her to choose as her husband. Before she could speak a lean and spindly suitor, probably not much older than Bethany herself, stepped forward and held out his arm to her.

"Please, if you would join me for a stroll about camp."

Suddenly she found herself fighting back laughter. It was not the boy's fault, but he was much to prim for her. His unscathed hands and groomed hair told her that while he may be a hunter had had never caught a lick of game in his life. She could tell that the chief was equally unimpressed, but it was custom that a girl be courted by all of her suitors before a husband was chosen. Reluctantly she took the blonde haired arm and followed the gangly young man clockwise around the common.

"I'm sorry, but I don't know your name." She said apologetically.

His expression was far less disappointed than expected.

"I am Porter, son of Alan the fisherman."

That was why he was so lean. He did not require the brute force of a land hunter.

"Your name suits you." Bethany observed.

"Thank you. And you are very lovely."

A slight smirk escaped her lips and she quickly bit her tongue.

"Is something the matter?" He asked her, scratching his head with his free hand.

"No, of course not. You're a sweet boy."

What little flame lived within his pale eyes seemed to die out. Porter knew he stood no chance with Bethany and she could see it.

"I'm sorry. It's just that I don't think I'm ready for this." She tried to correct herself.

"I understand." Porter assured. "None of us really stands a chance against Caleb."

This peeved Bethany and she spoke out.

"I'm not interested in Caleb."

A glint of hope inked back into Porter's gaze. He stood straighter and dared to tuck his arm at his side so that Bethany would be intimately close. She gritted her teeth and bared the gesture. They were halfway around the outer ring of the camp. Her gaze drifted to the basket where Gomez lay incapacitated.

"Is there one of us you prefer to the others?" Porter said in his too correct way.

"Not at all." Bethany spoke mindlessly, still fixed on the stranger.

"Well, for whatever value it holds, I am suitable. I can provide meat and comfort and pleasure. You will never go without."

Slightly annoyed and distracted Bethany responded coolly.

"I will never go without because I will be the head of our people, not because a man provided for me."

At last discouraged by her bluntness Porter dropped his arms and continued on in silence. A wave of pleased energy rose up from the group of waiting suitors. He had failed to win her over. Instead of completing the loop he politely excused himself and returned to his mother and father who were expectantly waiting.

Bethany cut across the common, eager to finish each of these courtships before the hour of the last light feast. One after another went away disappointed and at last Bethany was left with only Caleb. Nothing could make her accept his proposal. This would be over quickly. She approached him from the front and waited for him to extend his invitation. He did not look up from his work. Blood stained the table and his fingers. Bethany cleared her throat.

"Ahem."

His gaze remained on the maimed deer.

"Do you need something?" He asked her dryly.

A flash of rage warmed her skin.

"There are no more suitors. You're the last one." She announced bitterly.

Still his attention was not swayed. With surgical precision he portioned the meat which had already been skinned and gutted.

"I will have my turn when I am ready and no sooner." The gruffness in his voice was unanticipated.

Bethany felt herself losing patience.

"I wasn't going to choose you anyway. I just thought I'd let you try and woo me, but I guess your deer is more pertinent."

Again he snubbed her. Outraged at his boldness she stormed away. She was about to go back to Lydia, but she quickly remembered that they were on poor terms as well. The only other person she knew she could talk to was Gomez. He couldn't tell anyone what she said if nobody was allowed near him. For a second time she found herself sneaking around the camp weaving in and out of baskets and posts and cooking fires. Inside the basket Gomez was asleep.

"Hey!" She hissed at him. "Wake up!"

With a start he sat up and stared bewildered at Bethany.

"I was sleeping." He protested.

"You'll live."

He groaned and wiped at his eyes. As he lifted his arms Bethany spotted another scar high on his ribs.

"Is it time for me to leave?" He asked her.

"No," she shook her head, "I needed someone to talk to."

"Okay." He was clearly not understanding her. "Don't you have friends?"

"Only one." Bethany admitted. "She's mad at me right now."

"I can't imagine why." Gomez scoffed.

"She's supposed to be my advisor, but she always pulls me away from the things I want."

"It sounds like she's doing her job - advising."

"But what if she's wrong, Gomez? Maybe I can be an effective leader without being married to Caleb."

"Woah, woah, woah slow down. Who's marrying who and why?"

Bethany rolled her eyes, agitated at his lack of comprehension.

"I am the daughter of the chief, which means that in one year I will take over as the leader of our tribe. My father thinks I'm reckless and untamed so he wants to marry me off to Caleb so that I will be protected." She made a quoting gesture with her hands and glanced in Caleb's direction.

"Why not just marry the guy?" Be said as if this were the obvious solution.

"Because I don't want to!" She objected. "I want to make my own path."

"We all want that. It doesn't make it the right thing to do." Somberness settled in his tone.

Bethany absorbed his words and kneaded them in her head.

"What makes you so sure?" She earnestly asked.

Caleb was washing down the wood. He wrung the red water into a pail and then carried it beyond the perimeter of the camp and tossed it into the grass. He was several yards from Bethany and as he turned he spotted her. Thinking on her feet she began to finger through the grass as if she'd lost something.

"Bethany, what are you doing?"

He set the pail down and strode toward her.

"Ummm, nothing." She stuttered. "I dropped something."

"I mean what are you doing outside of the camp?"

Without warning he took her arm and lifted her from the ground.

"Hey!" She spit at him.

"I won't have you behaving so carelessly."

"Won't have? Who do you think you are, my father?" Angrily she ripped free of his grasp.

"No, but I will be your husband and I expect that you act as a young woman should."

Irate Bethany narrowed her eyes at him.

"You will not be my husband as long as I have a say in it."

"And what say do you have? You refused every other eligible man."

"I'll stay unwed."

"And let your bloodline die? Your father won't stand for that."

"Well he has to!" She was yelling now and it seemed she drew the attention of the healers.

"Or he can appoint someone else in your place and then you will be exiled." He was inches from her face and his hot breath wafted over her forehead.

"You wouldn't." She found herself at a loss.

"I expect you to share the last light feast with me this evening. Tomorrow I will propose formally and you will accept without question. Unless you want to end up like your friend there." He glowered at the basket where Gomez lay still.

Bethany glared at him as he walked back to his work. Never had she been talked to in such a way.

"I can see why you don't like the guy." Gomez conceded.

"I thought you said you left." She seethed. "He seems to think you were exiled."

"What does he know?" Gomez sneered.

"Well, were you?"

"No. I left by choice." He insisted once more.

"Why did you leave?"

Silence lingered on the other side of the barrier and Bethany was beginning to think Gomez had gone to sleep.

"I didn't agree with my father either." He finally told her.

"Was he trying to force you to marry, too?"

"No." He quieted. "He wanted me to do something unforgivable so I left."

Bethany perked up.

"What was it?" She pried.

After another long pause he spoke.

"He wanted me to kill my own brother."


© 2015 J.A. Marquez


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Added on April 2, 2015
Last Updated on April 14, 2015
Tags: dystopia, fiction, adventure, coming of age


Author

J.A. Marquez
J.A. Marquez

South Lake Tahoe, CA



About
If you want to know who I am, read my stories. Many are works in progress, and many are just a few sentences, but each one is a piece of my soul. more..

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Unbroken Unbroken

A Story by J.A. Marquez