Sacrifice

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Faida stood with her family and warriors upon the unfamiliar beach of the Summer Isle as the Serik ships arrived. Her uncle explained that it was customary for those who arrived first to greet those that came after. Having greeted Chief Zekiir the last time they met, this time seemed far less enjoyable. Being weaponless may have had something to do with that feeling.

It seemed to take much longer than she wished for the Seriks to approach. When they did, she almost scowled to see the smile upon Zekiir's face. The only thing that halted it was her knowledge of what would happen next.

"Chief Ak'uin," he said, nodding his head to her uncle.

"Chief Zekiir, we welcome you to Summer Isle. Please, join us by the Sacred Fire that we may pray for your safe journey and the prosperity of our people."

Faida almost smiled at the suggestion. Ak'uin had claimed it was also tradition, but she could see the longing in Zekiir's eyes as they flickered over her. He was eager to have her wed to him, and anything prior to then was a trial. One Faida was happy to have him endure.

Until sunset, the Vezhul and Serik people were gathered near the Sacred Fire before they began to bed down for the night. It was then that Faida approached Zekiir. She barely met his gaze as she commanded, "Follow me." Then she turned and strode into the night.

"You are used to having your orders obeyed," he mused as he fell into step beside her.

"To command is my calling."

"As is mine."

Faida snorted. "Your idea of command is weak. You are weak."

"Was I so weak when I did this?" he asked, his fingers trailing over the scar his sword had left on her shoulder.

At once, Faida twisted, bringing her arm up over his and locking it into place at her side. Then she used the side of her other hand to deliver a sharp blow to his throat. She released his arm and shoved him backward as he coughed through the attack.

"Touch me again, and I will break something."

When the coughing passed, he rasped out, "We are to be married."

Faida raised her chin, "You get ahead of yourself. There will be no marriage if I do not deem you worthy."

Confusion flashed across his face and she reveled in having surprised him yet again. "Then why are we here?"

"So I can make my decision. If I choose to make you my husband, then the ceremony will be performed without delay. Should you prove unworthy, my uncle will consider your debt settled and we will go our separate ways."

"Chief Ak'uin leaves a decision such as this in the hands of his brother's daughter?"

Whirling towards him, Faida stepped as close as she could without craning her neck back. "Chief Ak'uin leaves this decision to the Gods. Both women of his blood are Claimed. My twin and I serve the Gods and neither of us will forsake our calling. We are here, Zekiir, to determine which path Ne'Hatma has laid for me. If you are a part of that, I will accept my fate. But you are much mistaken if you think you have any part to play in these events."

"Do you think the Gods have forsaken me, then? Do you think I am not also guided by fate?"

"I know you are, else we would not be here. That does not mean you will control the outcome of this arrangement."

"What outcome do you foresee?"

"There are two. One, you are unworthy and I leave this place to continue with my life as a Daughter of Ne'Hatma. Two, I find in you some worth and commune with the Goddess. If it is her will, I will make you my husband. I will travel with you to my new home. We will create my child, who will stand as a symbol of the unity of Parnon."

"All of this is about you, is it?" he asked, his voice growing quiet as he leaned against a tree.

Faida had chosen her words with care. She had avoided any implication that he would share any part of her life. He would be a means of fulfilling her destiny—should such a fate exist—and nothing more. That was the only role she was willing to offer him.

"I am not sacrificing my life for nothing. I will not be your wife. I will not be the mother to your child. I will not be your left hand. You will be my husband. The father of my child. The man standing to my left. Now tell me, is that what you really wish?"

Once more, he looked surprised. "Are you saying that I can make a decision after all, Daughter of Ne'Hatma?"

"I am saying that I will consider your wishes when I make mine."

"Then I will tell you what it is that I desire. I require an heir. For that, I need a wife. I owed a debt to the Vezhul and thought a match could be made. Nothing more."

A bark of laughter escaped her before her fist shot out and landed just below his ribs. "I do not favor liars," she said.

As she withdrew her hand, his fingers closed over her wrist and he dragged her up against him. "It is against our laws to harm those who come here in peace."

She raised her chin, unconcerned. "I am a Daughter of Ne'Hatma. If I choose to do you harm, you will know it." Then she grinned before bringing her heel down upon his toes, hearing a satisfying crunch. "You were warned," she said as she danced out of his long reach.

Zekiir leaned back against a tree, cursing under his breath as his body absorbed the pain. When he seemed able to speak past it, he glared at her. "What is it you want?"

"What I want is to not be here. What I desire is not to be forced into this situation. I want to go home and live out my life without the thought of forsaking my calling entering into my head. What I want does not matter to you, however. Else you would not have attempted to lay claim to a Claimed woman."

Zekiir said nothing, staring at his two broken toes. He would have to splint them soon, and she could see the trepidation over the action forming across his features. For a worshipper of Serti, he did not manage pain as Faida did.

"Tell me the truth, Zekiir. Why me?"

She wasn't prepared when he turned his back to her and pulled his long hair away from his neck. Ne'Hatma's blade had barely faded over the years. Faida felt as if she'd been struck in the gut.

Without turning around, Zekiir said, "We are Claimed by our Gods, but that does not mean we do not have a duty to our people. I do need a wife and son. I do have a debt to Vezhul. And I have the opportunity to solve all of those riddles wrapped up in the one woman who knows exactly what position I have put myself in."

Zekiir turned to face her then, his expression impenetrable. "I ask you to be a wife and mother to the future of our people. I ask you to stand at my side while I stand beside yours. Your calling is to command. Believe that mine is the same as yours. Also believe that I do not intend for either of us to forsake it."

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