The Sapphire Legend
It’s been months since the destruction of Sapere’s village forced the survivors to flee into the Wild, where her secret was discovered and her Council struggles to keep the remains of her tribe alive. Surviving the attack, the flood, the Wild itself is proof that they have grown stronger as a people. Even in their new campsite they feel safe and comfortable... too comfortable.
Certain they must find the last of the Oro tribes and warn them about the impending Pliz danger before it's too late, Sapere and Venatore take to scouring the Wild for the Great Blue Waters. Finding them, however, may not be the end of their trials, but only the beginning. For Sapere, this means facing antagonism toward her gift and her position on Council, an unprecedented break from tradition that their sister tribe won't accept. For the rest of the tribe, this means adjusting to a new way of life with values and traditions very different from their current, and even former, one.
But something else is bothering Sapere, as she soon wonders if leaving the familiarity of the Wild leads to more harm than good. Should the survivors seek refuge with their sister tribe if they'll arrive just in time for war? What if those who lived through the first attack don't survive the second?
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The word hangs in the air, saturating our senses until they deny everything but the importance of that one word.
My mouth waters in anticipation. Is that dull thumping sound I hear water? It doesn’t sound like water. Water flows and rushes, streams and falls, but it doesn’t thump. Does it?
Venatore and I stare at each other wide-eyed as the implications of our discovery slowly set in. If we found salt, then we found the Great Waters, and if we found the Great Waters, then it’s only a matter of time before we find the last of the Oro tribes. With the amount of ground I can cover with my speed, it’s really more a matter of distance than time.
“Do you really think...?” I begin to ask, but can’t get the rest of the question past my lips, as if voicing it will change its reality.
“There’s only one way to find out,” Venatore replies, a small twinkle peeking out of the corner of his eye.
I am painfully aware that not everyone is as anxious as I am to get out of the Wild. I love the Wild, have grown to love it more since it became a home for us when we needed it most, but I also know that a treaty is sacred. We cannot keep ourselves from warning or helping another tribe if the Pliz is set on attacking them, too. We know for sure that they already attacked three out of five tribes. It doesn’t seem likely that they would stop there.
At least I know I can rely on Venatore for help in finding a way out of the Wild. Considering how close Rubee came to drowning in the storm, Venatore has become more anxious to get out of here and get his wife to a safer place. So we can’t ignore what we’ve found.
“Which way?” I ask.
Venatore lifts his nose to the air a moment and finally points in a direction slightly off center from where we were headed.
I smile widely. “Try to keep up,” I say, then shoot off at full speed in the direction he indicated.
I should be more careful running so fast on unknown ground, but I am too excited with the prospect of our discovery to take heed of the constant dangers of the Wild. A joka could shoot out of a tree and bite me dead before I have time to stop. Or a wolfe could smell me and give chase, attacking me before I have time to register its presence. I’ve never raced a wolfe, or most of the animals in the Wild, so I really don’t know which ones I can safely outrun. Still, those concerns don’t slow me, not today.
I break out of the Wild as the ground changes beneath my feet. Instead of the soft dirt by the river or the hard-packed dirt covering the rest of the Wild floor, the ground here is a conglomerate of rocky pieces, little pebbles of earth that fell away from the Wild ground to form the terrain that leads to the thumping water.
The Waters are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They stretch out farther than my eye can grasp, and I doubt that even Vea could see the end of them. The water rolls onto the pebbled floor, smashing in then pulling away in an unending battle between land and sea. I stand mesmerized, unable to look away from this new force of nature. Is there any land, any region, the Creator had not thought to put into this world?
Soon, I hear Venatore’s heavy breathing escape the Wild and the slight crunching of his feet on the new land as he finally catches up to me. He squints into the distance, as if he, too, is trying to figure out if anything lies beyond the Great Blue Waters.
“You didn’t have to wait for me,” he gasps sarcastically.
“It was no bother,” I reply lightly, my breathing comfortably regular compared to his.
He doesn’t bother responding, his gaze is too fixed on the beauty before us.
“Magnificent,” he whispers.
“Exactly,” I agree.
A second, almost silent sound joins the steady crashing of the water on land, and I tilt my head upward to see a flock of sky-creatures majestically soaring overhead. The bold reds, oranges and yellows of their feathered bodies stand out against the light blue sky, as if they are the last buffer between us and the infinite heavens above.
I smile sadly. Neshek had told me that sky-creatures like to nest near water. He even supposed there would be flocks of them near the Great Blue Waters. I shrug away the memories of Neshek seeing the creatures bring me. They are too beautiful to loathe just because of him. Rather, I take seeing them as a good sign, as most sightings of something this beautiful are. Emaryld the healer once warned that the most beautiful flower can be the deadliest of all, but I can’t connect that fact to these riveting creatures above us. They seem too perfect to be deadly, though they must be to survive in the Wild.
Eventually, I push all other thoughts from my mind and focus solely on the breathtaking scenery around us. Each time the water hits the tiny rocks, it sends up a soft spray of mist that speckles our faces. I lick my lips, which confirms that Venatore was right. I glance over and catch him doing the same.
“Salt.” I smile in affirmation.
Venatore nods, then questions hesitantly, “Sapere?”
“Yes?” I regard him through squinted eyes, wondering what he is so afraid to say.
“We should be careful in choosing who we tell about this,” he says seriously.
I hate to admit that he has a point. If we are going to convince the other villagers that it is time to move on, after having set up camp again, then we need the Council on our side. Venatore and I have an equal voice in Council, but we are only two out of seven, the youngest two at that. We need the help of someone older, more persuasive, more forceful than we are.
“Let’s finish checking out the area,” I suggest.
“If Vea were here, he could just look,” Venatore scrunches his nose. “Our best option is for you to go alone. I don’t like it though. We don’t know what kinds of animals breed around here.”
We stare at each other, pretending to think of more ideas, though we have none. We are safe enough together, but running at full speed, Venatore can’t keep up with me. If we had any doubt before, we proved it just now. I could try to go slower but that would lessen how much land we’d cover before it becomes too dark to journey back to the camp. Even with Venatore’s keen sense of smell and my hearing, we don’t need to take chances in a part of the Wild completely unfamiliar to us.
“It’s all we’ve got,” I finally say. “I’ll be careful.”
I unsheathe a knife and grip it tightly in my hand to prove that I’m already prepared. As long as I don’t trip, I should be okay.
Venatore nods. “I’ll follow as close as I can.”
I look toward my right and then toward my left, trying to divine which direction I should set off in first. If we only have time to go one way today, then I want to get it right on the first try.
Venatore tilts his head and studies the sun. “The last tribe had to have settled where this land ends, because they use the cliffs for their protection. Besides, this doesn’t seem like a soil that’s good for planting anything. It can’t be to the left.”
“Unless the cliffs flatten out and we’re standing on top of them,” I muse, “which means left is the way to go.”
“Maybe,” Venatore agrees, “but I still think we should go right first.”
“Sounds right,” I smile at my play on words. “Ready?”
Venatore inhales deeply and nods. “Let’s go.”
I crouch low, pause then explode away from the ground, dashing across the pebbles as fast as I can, my hands pumping, my lungs gasping, my whole body relishing the burn of running freely again, without the danger of tangling roots and vines to trip me up. The ground slips away under my feet, and I have to push harder than when running on the more solid Wild floor. The salty breeze dancing across the Waters whips across my face and through my hair in a rush as exhilarating as my own.
I try not to let excitement cloud my mind as I keep a sharp ear and eye out for anything different, suspect or dangerous. The land here is so flat, so plain and the Waters so infinite, that I wonder if the ground will ever change to a place where a tribe could settle.
I don’t know how far I’ve gone before the first changes in the landscape begin to emerge. The ground grows firmer along the Great Blue Waters and soon becomes tightly packed to form a series of short mounds leading up to a great, long one some distance away.
I pull up short and carefully study the area before me. Human hands formed these bumps, of that much I am sure. I close my eyes and concentrate my hearing, pushing away the roaring of the water beside me, fighting to isolate what could be the sounds of a village, of people at work. This has to be it, but I dare not go any closer alone. What if their scouts mistake me for a Pliz? Would they attack first and skip the questions later?
I wait impatiently for Venatore to catch up. His sense of smell could confirm what I suspect, but he’s taking too long. One look at the sliding sun reminds me that time isn’t waiting, and neither should I. So I turn around and run as fast as I can toward Venatore, spraying dust and pebbles when I stop short to meet him. He takes one look at my wild eyes and excited expression and immediately lifts his bow and arrow, peering down the length of the arrowhead for his mark. I gently push his hand down.
“No one’s following me...I think.” I take a moment to listen just in case I’m wrong. “I believe we found them.”
Venatore’s expression immediately perks up. “How do you know?”
I tell him about the series of manmade bumps. We both agree that it is better not to get any closer without backup...or the dagger, I add to myself. I’m not sure why we need the sapphire-hilted dagger, but I do know that we’re not supposed to approach the other tribe without it. Good isn’t the usual outcome when I do things I’m not supposed to do.
We turn around and head back toward the point in the Wild we came from. It takes us two tries to find the right area because everything looks exactly the same from this side, but Venatore’s nose is eventually able to direct us to the right place.
The sun is too low in the sky when we head back toward camp, excited but wary of what our discovery could mean. We know we won’t get back until well after dark, and I hope that the others keep calm until we do. We are safer in our new camp, but that doesn’t dampen the edge we all feel living in the Wild. A small voice tells me that even when we finally leave the Wild, that edge, that tension will never fully leave any of us.
As suspected, we arrive at the campsite well after dark, and the first thing that greets us is a sudden blur that flings itself at a startled Venatore. It is only once the blur starts talking that we realize it’s his wife Rubee.
“Don’t do that again,” she firmly chastises us. “Do you know how scared I was?” She eyes us each sharply before changing her tone. “Are you hurt? Did something happen? Why didn’t you tell me how long you’d be gone?”
Others start crowding around us; no doubt, the late hour and Rubee’s distraught state raised an alarm throughout the camp. We’re not in a place where we can afford to take too many chances. Since our village was decimated, every survivor’s life matters twofold out here.
Venatore gives Rubee a small hug of reassurance then gently disentangles himself from her steely grip. He glances quickly at me over her head, and I give a slight shake of my head. Not yet. Not even to her.
“We lost our way a little.” He smiles weakly, feigning embarrassment at what shouldn’t have happened with the kind of gifts we have between the two of us. “But we’re here now, so everything’s fine.”
He leads her toward the main fire, looking for something to eat, and the crowd disperses, too. I start to follow behind him when I feel a hand close around my arm, holding me back. I turn and look up into Reo’s worried eyes.
“You two okay?” he asks quietly.
Reo is someone Venatore and I both call friend, so I really want to tell him what I’ve seen, but I stop myself. Not too long ago, I secretly showed him the sapphire-hilted dagger in the engraved wooden box from my father. We both understood what it meant. He warned me then that not everyone would want to leave the Wild, and thinking on it now, I wonder if he’d been including himself in that consideration.
“We’re okay,” I confirm, pulling my arm back. “We got lost.”
Reo lets me go, but studies me a moment longer. I squirm beneath his deep, calm gaze that always seems to see me as well as I see my reflection in the green pools of his eyes. Does he know that I am lying to him? Keeping another secret in a chain of secrets that never ends, but only progresses to the next link?
Finally, he nods, and I let out a quiet sigh of relief.
“Hungry?” he asks with a smile.
“Very,” I reply, falling into step beside him as we go to see what’s been scratched together for dinner.
Venatore and I don’t speak to each other as we eat the little food we have. He sits next to Rubee, who keeps grabbing his hand to reassure herself that he really is okay. I huddle close to the fire with my sister, Onyx, who once more scolds me for going off into the Wild for so long without telling her. The last time was when I sneaked out to join the scout group that went back to the charred remains of our village, and she’d been very pregnant then. Now, her son Luxa babbles happily beside us, at least when he isn’t dumbstruck by the dancing flames of the central fire. Luckily, I am able to tune out most of Onyx’s rebuke because she gets too distracted with him.
Later that night, after the fire burns low and everyone but the sentries is asleep in their shelters, I silently shimmy off my mat and go find Venatore on sentry duty. I tiptoe quietly to his position but freeze abruptly when I hear the lone howl of a wolfe, echoed by another and another still. I try not to move too much as I swivel my head to figure out how far away they are. When I don’t hear the swift patter of wolfe paws, I figure my hearing magnified their call for me. I move forward stealthily, but slower now, on the lookout for lurking animals and biting plants.
The Wild stirs around me. I clearly hear the dangerous slithering of the jokas in the trees, the faint caw of birds safe in their nests and the low growl of prowling animals of prey. Although it’s the same Wild, there’s something different about it by night, the absent light taking with it the false sense of security we feel by day. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the gift of sight, so can’t see the vibrant colors and textured topography that makes the Wild such a beautiful place in the sun. I wonder if Vea’s gift allows him to see the colors at night or if he can only distinguish each dark mass for what it really is. At night, it’s better for the rest of us to view the Wild from the safety of the fire in the camp.
“Venatore,” I whisper, when I near the spot where he told me he’d be.
Without seeing it, I know he sniffs the air around him, confirming my scent before showing himself.
“Right here,” he quietly responds from behind a tree a few paces away. “You’re late,” he adds when he steps into view.
“I had to wait for everyone to fall asleep,” I reply in defense.
“Fine, but that doesn’t give us much time until the next shift comes,” he reminds me.
“Who’s replacing you tonight?” I ask.
I roll my eyes even though he can’t see me. Felin was the most opposed and least accepting of my inclusion on Council. Girls aren’t supposed to sit on Council, but an exception was made for me as the last survivor of my family, then again as the bearer of my family’s gift, though I’m not supposed to have it. Saving Rubee from the flood at least finally encouraged the others to accept me as an equal.
Since then, Felin and I came to an unofficial compromise of sorts, which really means that we keep our distance from each other. He has reason to be bitter, as does anyone who survived the attack, but that doesn’t justify his specific bitterness toward me. I finally decided that he, like many others, is simply struggling with the changes we are forced to live with now. My differences simply act as a giant magnifier on those changes, because there are so many things I do that would never be allowed were it not for our unfortunate circumstances. So I can’t blame him. As much as I enjoy the relative freedom I now have to run and hunt and not stay indoors, I can’t reconcile my gain with the village’s loss. I would trade in my knives any minute for a boring night near the fire with Nashere, my husband of just a few hours who was killed trying to save me during the attack on our village.
“Try to keep up with me,” Venatore jokes as he steps noiselessly to his next position.
I corral my thoughts and follow him, treading carefully on the tightly packed dirt beneath my worn moccasins. My mind wanders to thinking about hunting down another dere so I can use its skins for a new tunic and shoes.
Venatore interrupts my thoughts. “Well?”
“What’s the plan?”
I sigh. “I don’t know.”
“That’s not very specific,” Venatore admonishes.
“I know,” I say. “And I also know that we have to be careful because not everyone wants to leave here as much as they once did. Looking around the fire tonight, I saw that many of the survivors are the most comfortable they’ve been since we got here. It doesn’t bode well for our discovery.”
“Comfortable, sort of,” Venatore corrects, “but they don’t love it here, scrounging for food, eating plants, fish and whatever meat we manage to hunt. This isn’t a real life.”
“I agree, but not everyone does. They may not love life here, but they’ve gotten used to it. There have already been too many changes. They may not welcome any more.”
“Then we have to remind them,” Venatore says fiercely, “that this is not our home and that we’re not safe out here.”
I shrug. “Going to the tribe by the Great Blue Waters is not going home either. We’re as safe there if the Pliz attack as we are here. Probably less.”
“At least, we know what the danger is there. Anything can strike at any minute here. Why live the rest of our lives with the knowledge that anyone can be poisoned, attacked or eaten over night?”
“I don’t have an answer for that,” I concede.
We stand quietly, lost in our frustrations of the serendipitous situation that should cause us more joy than grief. Things have never been simple for me. As the only girl ever born with a son’s gift, there have always been complexities in my life, but it’s starting to become too much for me. I really wish that things would simplify themselves so I could make clear decisions. And, in many ways, I wish those decisions didn’t affect Council and thereby the fate of my tribe.
My grandmother used to say that a person should be careful what he wishes for, because Venatore stops suddenly and sniffs the air.
“What are you doing here?” The voice hissing out of the darkness causes me to jump.
A moment later, Felin follows his voice out of the shadows, his keen yellow cat-eyes gleaming in the moonlight. We took too long. I should have been out of here before he came. I try to slink away, but Felin isn’t about to let me go anywhere.
“My conscience won’t stop me from taking you down,” Felin speaks directly to me. “I know what you’re capable of. You wouldn’t be entirely outmatched.”
I blink, taken aback by the fierce honesty of what he’s said and unsure of how I should react. In the end, I decide to accept it as a backhanded smack of praise. Felin does see me as an equal or he would hesitate to hurt me. Venatore and I glance at each and shift uncomfortably.
“Should we tell him?” Venatore asks, not even hiding that we have something to hide.
“We haven’t finished considering our options,” I reply without much conviction.
Felin already found us here conspiring in the dark. He has sharp senses; he knows something’s up.
“He can help us,” Venatore insists.
Felin’s eyes become tiny beams of light in the dark as he narrows his gaze, trying to decipher what we’re talking about. I hear him patiently rubbing the tips of his fingers together, probably trying to use his gift to sense our mood.
“Help with what? Tell me what?” he finally demands.
I sigh and look pointedly at Venatore. He spilled our secret; let him do the explaining.
“We found them,” Venatore immediately admits.
“Who?” Felin asks, the surprise of our admission momentarily dumbing him to the obviousness of the answer.
“The tribe by the Great Blue Waters,” Venatore elaborates.
Felin pauses, his fingers frozen mid-circle, as the weight of our secret sinks in. He tilts his head and regards us in a new way despite the darkness.
So we tell him about the searches, about the salt, about the water and about my run which stopped abruptly at the manmade hills used to fortify the village by slowing down long-nosed beasts and horses.
“Well, well, well,” Felin finally says, a touch of admiration in his voice. “Well done.” He thinks further a moment, then plainly asks, “Why do you have reservations about telling the others?”
Venatore glances at me, and I answer because it was really my reservations that held us back. “I don’t think everyone is so eager to leave anymore,” I say carefully. “I’m not even sure about all the members of Council.”
Felin considers my response before nodding. “I understand.”
We stand a moment more in silence as we process the information we’ve shared. I should be cautious of Felin, but I’m relieved we’ve told him. Knowing the location of the fifth Oro tribe was too big a secret for me and Venatore to keep alone, specifically because it wasn’t only ours. This is something that everyone has to know, but we have to make sure to do things right so our plan to move forward isn’t rejected. Originally, our goal of finding the last of the tribes was hampered by those who were injured in the attack and Onyx’s pregnancy. Now, we’re holding ourselves back because we’ve grown too comfortable here and are afraid of what awaits us out there. The most important thing for us is to convince Council to move forward. As long as Council presents a unanimous decision, the rest of the villagers will accept it.
Venatore clears his throat, a small sound that shatters the quiet around us. “Time to get some sleep.”
“Yes,” I mumble in agreement.
We turn to leave, but Felin calls after us. We pause in our tracks and turn back to face him.
“Will you show me?” he asks.
Venatore and I look at each other and shrug. If he is going to be our ally in this, then we need to prove our claim.
“Okay,” I answer for both of us. “Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” Felin confirms, and we leave him at his post.
Venatore and I don’t say much as we noiselessly make our way back to the camp. A few paces before we turn off toward our respective shelters, Venatore grabs my arm and pulls me back.
“Do you think we did the right thing?” he whispers.
I don’t even have to consider it. “Yes. Felin always wanted to get out of here. He’ll help us.”
Venatore nods. “Good night.”
“Good night,” I return and slip into my shelter.
Stretched out on my mat, I slowly replay what happened. Right now, I’m glad for the way things turned out even if I would have planned them differently. I’m also confident that, however Felin feels about me or Venatore for that matter, he will help us persuade Council that it’s time to get out of the Wild. It’s no secret that from the first day our small group of survivors came together, Felin argued strongly for finding the last of the tribes. Whatever his personal accountings are, it’s not something I need to worry about because we both want the same thing.
More important is that after we have been battered for so long, by man and by nature, we finally have a chance to take action in a way that isn’t an immediate reaction to something that was done to us by someone, or something, else.
We can finally act first. We can finally choose how we step into our future.