The Sapphire Legend
Sapere has always been different.
In her tribe, select families are blessed with a gift that is passed through the generations from father to son. But something went wrong when Sapere was born, because she has her family's gift and she shouldn’t.
When Sapere's village is attacked the night of her wedding, the survivors flee to the Wild in hopes of finding refuge in a dangerous place filled with deadly predators. Now, Sapere feels like an outsider on the precipice of two worlds, unable to fit into the old way, unaccepted by the new, and terrified of being shunned by both.
Through the survivors' fight for survival, Sapere learns that she can be a victim of circumstance or master of fate. Can she rise above the nature of her birth and mold her own future? Can she be herself and earn the villagers’ respect in their new world? Or will she forever be shackled by the anomaly that makes her different?
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I shouldn’t be here.
If anyone sees me I’d have to start explaining, and that will lead to trouble. I don’t even know how to explain it to myself.
I close my eyes and throw, allowing my arm to point the direction even after the knife has left my hand.
The blade slices through the air, moving too fast to spin, as it heads directly to the red center painted on the tree a fair distance away. Even before it thunks firmly into the trunk, I know the throw is good; I can feel it.
I need to think. The last morning to myself and the last morning I can be myself. I have to be home soon, before anyone starts wondering where I am. Besides, I have a wedding to prepare for—my wedding. Which is why I’m in the Wild now of all places.
I need to think. However, the intoxicating smell of the Wild fills my head, flooding it with the heady scent of blossoming flowers and ripe berries, leaving no space for other thoughts. The sun shimmers off the early morning dew in an often-blinding glint of white light. It doesn’t bother me. As long as I can hear, I am safe.
I need to think. Focus.
Nashere. My father wouldn’t ask me to marry him if he didn’t believe him to be a good man, but even Father doesn’t know my secret. No one does. No one can.
But Nashere will find out, and then what? Will he send me from his house? Will he tell others? Will they all send me from the village so I’ll have to make my home in the Wild where the soft hiss of poison and almost silent patter of preying paws instills fear in the heart of every man?
I take a deep breath and let the deceptive quiet of the Wild settle over me. In the early morning glow, it’s noiseless enough that I can hear the heartbeat of the ground itself, a wild, erratic beat but one that’s free and untamed.
Life here wouldn’t be too bad. Most of the villagers are afraid of the Wild, but I am not. The Wild can be a scary, dangerous place, but the Wild is beautiful and generous, too. Everything I need to live is at my fingertips. If I am good to the Wild and the animals in it, then the Wild will be good to me. I can hear it in the ferocity of its heartbeat.
I pull the knife out of the tree and examine the entry point. A clean shot. I wipe the blade against my dereskin tunic and slide the knife into my belt with the other three. It took a long time to make them, sneaking out separate pieces, carving them, sharpening them, creating them when no one was in sight. I couldn’t let them see me with the knives. Girls aren’t meant to carry weapons of war.
My ears perk up as something stirs the brush ahead of me.
I narrow my eyes and tread quietly to the source of the noise, unsure of what might be there, unsure of what I should be ready for. I carefully part the brush and come face to face with a dere. I hold my breath and keep still as I stare into its brown, doey eyes. I want to pet it. It looks so soft and docile up close. But I keep my hand back. This is an animal of the Wild; there is nothing docile about it.
Deres prefer the dark quiet of the shadows to the warm rays of the sun. I’ve come quietly, but with its keen sense of sound, I must sound like a raging storm. When I parted the brush, I allowed the sun to swallow up the safety of its shadows, which has not endeared me to it at all. The dere opens its mouth, and the sun sparks off its sharp fangs, its eyes narrow, and I can see the color of blood seeping into the brown softness that was there. I don’t move, sure that it will strike but unwilling to give it any more reason to do so. We are kin, in a way, but he doesn’t know it. Time grinds by slowly, and I wonder if my life will end here in the middle of the Wild on the day of my wedding.
Suddenly, the trees above us shake, and a flock of small birds shoots up into the deep blue sky. I look back into the dere’s eyes. The blood slowly fades.
It doesn’t bite; it runs.
I hesitate briefly before I too break out into a run beside it. Deres are swift creatures, but I keep pace, and though I can’t explain it, it feels right. I’ve never felt so complete.
Just as soon, the moment is over. The dere veers sharply, deeper into the Wild, and I turn the other way. The sun rises higher in the sky. I have to get back to the village. I’ve been out here too long.
I find the tree hollow where I keep my real clothes and slip off my pants and tunic. I carefully wrap them around my knives and slide them into the hollow, covering them with foliage from the Wild’s floor. I slip back into my dereskin dress with the sleeves down to my wrist.
I glance down briefly at my forearm and freeze. I hadn’t noticed that the spots grew. On my father’s arms the spots, like those on a dere’s back, reach up to his elbow. Our family was blessed with the gift of the dere, which is a keen sense of sound and very swift feet. The first time my gift announced itself to me was with a roaring so loud, I doubled over from the pain in my ears. Suddenly, I was able to hear snippets of conversations from across the village, whispers said in hushed tones through walls and the gentle swaying of each individual blade of grass in the breeze. I didn’t understand why it was happening to me, didn’t understand why my father’s gift was appearing in me. I didn’t understand what that would make me.
One morning, I noticed a few specks around my wrist, but now they’d transformed into small, white spots, which were slowly creeping up my forearm. It wouldn’t take long for Nashere to see them, and then he would surely cast me out.
Maybe another tribe would take me in.
I doubt it. Our traditions are pretty much the same.
My tribe is the third of the Oro tribes that settled the Wide Plains framed by the Great Blue Waters and the Majestic Hills. Our lands are filled with wild game and sparkling stones dug from the quarries in the Hills. Our homes rest on fertile soil, and my tribe feasts well on the fruits we labor from the land. There is also fresh game for those brave enough to enter the untamable Wild that backs our village, but usually we dine on the fat cattle that graze our lands and the silvery fish that dash through the river meandering out of the Wild and past the far side of our village.
My father sits on the Council of thirteen families that govern our tribe. Each Council family is blessed with a special gift that is passed through the generations from father to son. These gifts are represented by a physical mark or special token, proudly displayed by all male members of the family.
That is why the dere spots on my arm trouble me so much. It is why I must hide them under long sleeves and constantly worry about someone discovering my secret, why I toss and turn every night and sleep in terror since the day of my engagement months ago.
Because something went wrong when I was born. Because I am not a son, but I have the gift.