“You are naive,” he hissed.
The sounds echoed off the sweating walls of the alley.
“What can we do? What is your plan?” Zoar fumed.
Gilbred’s pacing revealed enough.
“All you knew was from orders given. Why don’t you forge your own path? We’re in danger, and I’ll take all the help I can get.”
Gilbred rounded on her with a pointed finger, “You don’t know if you’re any safer with them. I know what they offer.” His eyes drifted away for a moment.
“They offer us food, shelter, possibly even hope. You gave up nothing coming out here; I gave up everything.” Zoar turned to the stairs. She watched the mouth of the dark alley where Gilbred lingered.
The door creaked upstairs and Greggor appeared next to her. Zoar continued to watch him. His head whipped up seeing Greggor standing with her. She could see the decision in his narrowed eyes. He took two long strides and was out of sight. Zoar took a deep breath fighting the heaviness and went back upstairs. Greggor joined her a few minutes later.
The festivities returned after a short time. Zoar’s own feelings were dull. She was still excited by what she could learn from these people; but she was still distracted by her loyalty to Gilbred.
“So please tell us everything,” one large man blurted. His excitement spread throughout the room as everyone quieted to listen.
Slight discomfort edged in on Zoar as she collected her thoughts.
“I do not know where to start,” she said taking a sip of her wine. Zoar explained the first encounters she had with the Man. She was forced to retell the story with painstaking detail. If she did not the group would groan with dissatisfaction and request more. They whooped praises when she described how the Man had appeared to her. And when she had been protected against the High Priestess.
“Now let me ask you this,” Zoar interjected just as her story ended. “Who is this Man of Light?”
The room went quiet, several looked to Greggor who had been quiet the whole time.
A smile spread on his face, “Why do you look to me? You know as well as I do, tell the girl she deserves answers.”
“He is,” a little girl sitting between her father’s legs looked around for the words, “our hope.” Her father patted her on the head with a smile.
“Your hope?” Zoar asked, the word was foreign to her.
Another person piped up, “Do you not know of hope?”
A brief wave of embarrassment swept over her. She shook her head.
Greggor spoke out, “Hope is looking forward to what we can’t see, but we know.”
“I don’t understand,” Zoar said.
He mulled it over a little more this time. “It’s like tomorrow, we hope for it. We know that if the Light wills it we will see another day. So we live our life in hope of tomorrow.”
Some around the room nodded, other just smiled at her.
“How do you mean the Man of Light is our hope?”
“He comes and goes when his wisdom sees fit, and yet we trust in him even when we cannot see or feel him. He gave us all a promise, and that is our hope. That he will make good on his promise.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Let me ask you a question, why did you follow him?”
Zoar had avoided asking herself that question. She went back to the times he came to her, to her decisions, and what drove her to them. “Freedom.”
“Exactly!” Greggor burst with excitement. “You see, it is that you hope for freedom and you felt he offered it. Am I incorrect in this assumption?”
It was true Zoar realized, “No, that is correct.” A sudden wave of emotions hit her. A promise had been made, of a way out of the bondage of the tribe. And it had been made good. She felt like she was floating, she couldn’t pin down any more words. Why would anyone make a pact with her? Where emotions of awe had filled her vulnerability began to creep in. He had no right to obligate her this way.
“Forgive me if I cannot grab a hold of your hope like you have. The Man has been gone since I left my tribe, that’s the only reason I came with you Greggor. I wanted to find him and get answers” Zoar stood up and grabbed her spear. “Your hospitality,” she said to Greggor, “has been unwarranted.”
Everyone sat in silence as she left the small upper room.
Zoar navigated the grimy walls and shady nooks of the city back to the small tavern room. Gilbred’s possessions were gone. She sat down on a rickety stool in the corner and starred off with a blank expression. What now? A plan had to be organized. She tracked her steps to where she was now, refocusing.
Several hours later Zoar’s head bobbed as she fought the heaviness in her eyes. A loud crack startled her into a crouched position spear ready. Someone had slammed into the door sending a nail from the dilapidated door jam ringing across the floor. Loud swearing came from the other side of the door as a thud sounded and the door knob turned. It giggled but the door wouldn’t open. With another loud snap half the door jam bust off as the bartender came crashing through the doorway.
“Damned door jam,” he muttered now inspecting the damages.
He was startled when he noticed Zoar in the room.
“What are you doing here Rajani,” he spat out. “Your owner left, he didn’t pay for another night so you best find some other hole to stay tonight.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
The bartender laughed, “I don’t know what business you had here, but he was obviously finished.” His eyes went wide for a moment, hands wringing out a towel, “And I was serious about you leaving.”
Zoar stepped around him never taking her eyes off of him. She nearly tripped over the large bucket of water in the hallway. She wasted no time leaving the muttering man to his business.
It was cold tonight. The Miasma drew closer, bolstered by a fog that had rolled in. The Miasma hung just outside of reach, a thick fog that was unaffected by wind or passerby. Yet it shifted on its own accord, leaning against anything within its grasp. There wasn’t a time Zoar remembered being able to see more than a handful of strides in front of her.
On the street again, only worse off than before. Alone and confused she wandered. Drawing her firs close to fend off the cold’s bite Zoar leaned against an alley wall. It was packed with garbage and debris as was most of the city. But, tonight trash would have to do. Before settling into something like rest she fortified herself within the heavily laden alley. It helped keep her warm and facing the side street, but it smelled like the inside of a stomach.
Something demanded urgency on the edge of consciousness. It was surely a dream. It hissed again. This time it wouldn’t be lulled back.
Familiar accents ripped Zoar from her half sleep. The voices were right on her, there was another though. The darkness slowly revealed the presence of those speaking. Three men stood at the mouth of the alley, another two facing her but looking at the last figure standing. All Rajini except the one being interrogated. It was the Rajini Blood Scouts. The person they questioned violently stood only a few feet from her.
“Where is she?”
“I told you I must’ve been mistaken, I thought you meant someone else,” the man frantically reasoned.
“You have lead us astray before, I will give you one more chance where is the High Priestess?”
“I, I don’t, ack!” The leader stepped forward and kicked the man’s knee, then punched his spear into his chest sending him backwards against where Zoar was hidden.
The other Rajini stepped forward and they both pierced the man’s chest with their long spear heads. The man whimpered and coughed. A scream left his throat as the two warriors drained the life from his body up the shaft of their spears and into themselves.
Satisfied they turned and whispered orders to the other three and were gone. Heart pounding, Zoar pushed the body off of her niche and took a closer look. The man’s face was sunken and withered but it was clear who it was. An especially quiet man from the evening dinner. Surely a friend of Greggor, probably the one who had lead the Blood Scouts away the first time.
A lurch doubled Zoar over as she wretched on the cobbled ground. Blood was on her hands, blood she didn’t ask for but blood none the less. Should she go back with them, resuming her role as their leader, or were they here to exact justice for the death of the last High Priestess? In a town this size, especially with so little defense or surveillance they would continue to kill until they found her or a new trail. A thought made her freeze, Gilbred or Greggor dead in the alley. Fear and remorse filled her.
She would have to warn them.