Chapter One

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Chapter One

Sharp and merciless, the blade glistens in the dying light.

I watch silently as his hands, calloused from ancient wounds, slices the bread into fourths. My mother once told me in her rare moments of voluntary intellect that hands define ones' story. Are they soft and supple from their sheltered life--akin to a free bird soaring high in its first flight with naivety on its tongue, or are they scarred from the world, rough in nature like a hawk set intently on caging its prey to survive? Studying his marred hands, I think hawk.  

As he passes me one piece, I draw it into my mouth, chewing. My tongue prods at the sodden bread, checking for any distinction of poison. I'm careful as I'm sure that not one piece slides down my throat. Before my final judgement, I take in my father.

On instinct, I read his body like a language; it's a mental process that's become so on impulse that it hardly surprises me. Reading people is what he drilled into me from the very first moment that we began training long ago. I discern him from his eyebrows that are drawn together with crease lines earned from years of labor to his tense posture, a contrast against his usual open stance. His arms are crossed, a defensive nature indicating that he's ridden with confliction. His legs are closed together, too tightly as if he's a taut blade against skin waiting eagerly for release. The angle of his form is what intrigues me the most. It seems as if he's facing me, yet his body is angled slightly to the left facing our hidden estate. It shows that his intent lies more in that house than in our afternoon lesson on poisons. His eyes, despite locked onto my own, are flickering up towards the darkening sky. His focus is nowhere at the level that I'm accustomed to. He's irritated. What could be distracting him from my training? This is a rare occurrence, it's better that I do nothing to upset him.

Redirecting my attention towards our lesson, I continue to chew the bread, thinking of any distinct flavor that reminds me of the hundreds of poisons that I memorized in the past days. With his patience worn thin, my father opens his mouth.

"Wait!" I call out, holding him from speaking. "I think I've figured it out."

Clenching his jaw with distaste, his gaze touches mine only briefly. "You think, or you know?" A test, his words are always a test.

Choosing my next response carefully, I stare sullenly into the sky. It's devoid of color, dark and angry. The clouds stack heavily against each other; so dense that they obscure the sun and any remnants of warmth. It indicates a storm brewing ahead but oddly, not one drop of rain falls. The clouds keep at bay as if they're holding their breath, like nature itself suspects not to cross my father's wrath. "I know so Akitun," I clarify.

Bending forward, he assesses me with that unmissing gaze of his. "Imagine it as a matter of life or death my dear. Glean closely."

With the bread reduced to tasteless mush, I spit it onto the yellowing grass, letting a sly smile ghost my lips for the briefest of moments. I finally answer. "There was no poison in the bread. I tasted nothing but the flour, salt, and sugar."

For a tense moment, he stares. Such an aloof gaze, with his obsidian eyes sucking any thread of courage from my soul. He's watching for any hesitation—any weakness that allows him a chance to see through me. A heartbeat passes until his face suddenly breaks. Barely a tug to his lips with a flash of grim teeth. Relief only begins to describe the emotion that consumes me. The last thing I would wish is to disappoint him.

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