Dancing to the beat of 16 Hearts

A luminous belt of stars ride the wake in sky's calm ocean, sparse clouds drift through the night; this earth nothing more than cracked mud and tired scrub shrinking from the incessant chill wind - all is illuminated in hues of inky blue. Standing within plain site just within slopes summit she is visible only as a vague shadow, further lost to the night as silhouetted tendrils glide across this moon's dull glow. 600 paces below in a shallow basin triangular frames are consumed in fabric, the battering wind assaults the canvas, resounding through the vista as if giant beating wings. Her mind skips to the beat of 16 hearts, 11 are at slumber pumping blood's remedies for weary limbs. 5 more beat faster: 3 circle the perimeter attentive and 2 pace the open corridors separating these parallel constructions, all are alert.

Cradled in her left hand the weapon is light and compact, suited for immature hands. The magazine holds six rounds chosen for a reliability in stopping the intended, dead in their tracks. There is an extra round racked in the chamber, a total of seven gleaming missiles, more than will be needed. The battered leather holster is strapped at the base of her back, with safety engaged the weapon slides home with a soft resonance and is secured into place. She will only come to this at the very last for it is not her favoured means, for this, her right hand rests on a hilt fastened to her right leg; it is circular and narrow, bound in leather, worn, shaped to the contour of these small hands. Wrapping her palm tightly around this leather she gently eases the blade free, steel sighing against its metal rimmed sheath before being pushed firmly back into place. About her she pulls tight the dark cloak that would slap free to play in the wind, knotting it into place, drawing it around a face of youthful skin, radiant despite dark smears.

Long lashes blink over large dark eyes, wide of pupil. Moist lips part to reveal white teeth, between which she pushes a herb and begins softly chewing, taking all in. This makeshift barracks: four parallel rows of ceaseless fabric stretching away, separated by three open corridors grounded in the same dry mud, with nothing for a ceiling but the night sky.

Standing, buffeted by the forces of nature she is but a restless shadow, lowering herself to the ground she dissolves, outstretched she is invisible to all but a few that prey, circling in the sky. Slowly her left arm stretches forward, followed by the right leg, repeated in opposites. All are spread wide contorting shape, drawing cloak and body, ever closer, so gradual her progress, so small her form. Within visions perimeter she would appear as some abnormality in the earth's form, if the momentum of wind were suddenly to change and her scent carried to caress sentry noses, its vapid sweetness would be blamed on a minds want.

Known to so very few she is born of woman, living of mortal flesh, now preparing for this life's inevitable destiny; her every thought watched over by a pensive guardian looking down upon this arena from afar. The two step is the beat her mind dances to, the ever changing cadence the rhythm of her body, ever towards her prey: he stops, looks in her direction, attention caught by material loose, slapped free by the wind. Coated in anorak he crouches, slipping free his rifle, pushing back the hood from his face and stepping slowly in an arc around this sounds source: she can feel his senses probing, straining above the cacophony of wind, canvas and sway of scrub. Her beat is steady, palm wrapped around leather hilt, mind dancing to both their rhythms: his is well trained and regulated but a drum roll louder than any nearby. Gradually edging closer, the moon free of cloud makes clear the silhouette of fabric, at odds with those surrounding it. Leaning forward he slides the nozzle of his weapon beneath her cloak, finger poised on metal. Lifting the material he breaths out between pursed lips, relieved: just an old rag blown from afar. At his side a small shadow rises silently, his nemesis heralded by the sigh of metal on metal, his head turning, eyes wide. As a breeze she is past him, cutting off screams escape with a momentary gleam of moon upon steel.

Crouched at his head, pulling her cloak free from the scrub, his life gurgles into the cracks of mud. Knotting the material once more, she continues her crawl. 15 beating hearts.

The next is already circling looking for his missing friend, softly whistling to the others standing attentive in the open avenues separating sleeping soldiers. Brief hand signals and they noiselessly fan out diagonally at opposite ends, in a minute having directed the remaining sentries he will begin to circle, his training is about checking perimeters. Passing no more than ten steps from her statued form a low whimper escapes from her throat, loud enough to be heard, silent enough to draw him in. Stopping, hesitating and then slowly moving closer step over careful step, his rifle raised and ready. He could now see a small dark form, crouching and cloaked, his voice a whisper, unsure: 'Ben?' His beat a familiar drum roll. Two more steps and he stands looking down at her frightened upturned face: a girl on the verge of woman shivering pathetic in the cold. His mouth hangs open, lips waiting on some question of the mind. The blade entered just below his sternum, pierced his thumping heart and exited through the back of his neck, the brain never even registering anything was wrong, no time even to manifest the smile it had thought to conjure. Stepping back she let the body slump towards her. 14 beating hearts.

Discarding her folded cloak to the ground she is now clothed in loose dark fabric, her long dark hair pulled back and fastened securely in a bun atop her head, topped by a pinned length of wood. This whole image is about shape and deceiving the eye.

If the encampment is a clock face she is now poised, incriminated by the small hand, just beyond eight. The vibrant moon and wind working together create shifting shapes of the billowing fabric, her destination their dark shadow, twenty exposed moonlit paces away. Reaching beneath her top fingers skip over a belt fastened diagonally across her flesh, tracing over small blades before easing free a thin elliptical piece of wood. Holding this as if to skim a stone across water she sits with her arm cocked waiting on the casual cloud. Just within four o'clock, one of the remaining sentries stands as a statue, back against the shifting structure: his two beat fast, all senses focused on the darkness, anxious eyes reaching out to the soft silhouette of the horizon. A stray cloud blots the moon and all darkens once more in tone, her moment. Ejected the wood skims into the night sky, reaching its highest pitch above the camp, the wind passing through its angled slats emitting a low cry as if a bird issuing a warning or just marking its position. The shape of the wood combined with the force of the throw takes it on and some way over and past the enclosure; her final stride is long and followed by a dive forward, leading with the left arm, letting the arc of her spine ride the earth, coming up in a crouch just a step short of the canvas. Lingering just above the mud, dry dust marks her passage, quickly dissipated by the busy breeze. Resuming his vigilance the guard looking back down from the distracting call of a bird, quickly scans the camp before eyes delve back into the void. With the end of her blade a vertical entrance is sliced into the corner of the canvass, through which she noiselessly passes into the framed enclosure.

She is inside a rectangular tent, high enough for a man to stand with a slight stoop. There are ten steps to the flapped entrance directly in front and six to the slow breathing male to her left, sleeping soundly on a low wooden bunk, laying on his side eyes closed facing her. A thick blanket hangs just above the covered floor. Regulating her breathing to match his, she has just under one minute before his trained subconscious will begin manufacturing the chaotic dreams that proceed conscious.

Killing a man is one thing but killing him noiselessly is entirely another. Even her accurate blade to this heart would not prevent seconds of shouting or thrashing in life's last throes, there is no scope for mistake: in their hands she could be tossed about with little more effort than would be required of a heavy rucksack. With each outward breath she stepped closer to the inert form, with each movement slowly reaching up and pulling free the wooden pin from her hair, she did not like this, this way of killing, it was impersonal. His dreams were starting to reverberate through her mind, chaotic breathing, running hard from some dark fear chasing, a silent child cradled in his arms. She felt some good in him, not really a dark heart, he believed his way was the truth. Beating hearts. Leaning over, his kaleidoscope of life's images invading her conscious, flashing in ever increasing succession, lowering the tip of the wood just above his ear. She angled it slightly and then pushed down hard with all her weight: the tip entered through his eardrum, broke through the temporal bone, pierced the inner cerebellum; cutting through and obliterating the fine weave of nerve endings at the tip of the spinal cord. His eyes and mouth were thrown wide open in reflex, heart halted in mid beat, paralysed. His final seconds were spent wondering why a young girl would be crawling under his bunk. 13 beating hearts.

No sooner had she disappeared beneath the wooden slats, the front of the tent burst open, a head appeared followed by an urgent stream of words and then it was gone. Rolling back out from beneath the frame, she glided to the material panel beside the entrance and sank to her haunches; within moments something from the frozen image of his sleeping friend would register: the open eyes.

She could feel the rising concern within the camp, running footsteps, restless torches creating long shadows randomly across the fabric, their minds emerging to the realisation of this unquantified peril. After reaching for a sack to clean her wooden pin she returned it neatly back into her hair. Long lashes blink over wide calculating eyes, cast up towards a forgotten length of string swaying from the metal frame of the roof. Pushing another herb between her teeth, she felt him double back, a pause and then the flap opened.

First the light entered, the beam furtively foraging before settling on the bunk, then an arm holding a pistol and a partial body dressed in anorak: “Asif?” A hopeful call to the prone figure, again: “Asif!!” The torches sentinel beam is followed by a gun, parsing first left, then right and then back to the bunk, pausing. The pool of light is played across the far end and beneath the wooden frame despite its small size, the canvas slapping closed behind as he stepped over to the body, a small shadow falling in behind. The dull sound of metal slowly drawn screams for attention at the back of his mind but is lost among all else clamouring at his burdened senses, eyes taking in the distorted features of his friend. Caught between horror and the need for motion, he felt a tug at his wrist and then the sound of something heavy hitting the ground at his feet: his right hand still clasping the gun, disconnected. A shadow and thin light danced beneath his vision followed by a searing pain across his left calf, falling to the ground on his good leg, the shadow reappeared. He lunged with the torch, easily parried, felt his hair grabbed, pulled sideways and a cold release along the side of his neck, a cold that quickly wove its way through his limbs, his heart slowing, trying to beat with less and less. His body hit the ground, the hard texture of the floor against his cheek, his mouth silently opening and closing around a silent scream as he watched this nemesis reach up and fasten his torch to the metal frame; wildly illuminating the confines of this place as it spun one way and then another, no bigger than a child! Kicking his hand beneath the bunk, her grey clad foot stepped onto the thin mattress and with the sound of cleaved canvas disappeared into the night. 12 beating hearts.

The cold wind quickly found her, roving through the folds of material and caressing skin, it felt good to be back in the open. Most of them were somewhere within the confines of the four rows, or on the far side; instinct and the frantic light was drawing them towards her. Ducking beyond the rear of the adjoining structure and with blade ready, angled towards the ground she moved step over step. There were two tracking in the parallel corridor, following a careless shadow. Changing her trajectory she moved increasingly away from the encampment heading towards ten o'clock.

They came either side of the final tent as if water around rock, heading towards her, clearing through the empty spaces, pausing five paces apart; she knelt fifteen more away, right arm extended with the blade at right angles across her form. One blink of unfocused eyes can take an eternity, humanity's instinct to preserve child life their folly: spewing flame the gun in her left hand roared twice in quick succession, stopping all conscious beings within its echo. Lifted and thrown backwards with the force, crimson flowering from their chests, she had turned and was sprinting in the opposite direction before the first hit the ground. 11 beating hearts. Out of sight she dropped to the floor, chambered another round, safety on, the weapon slid back into the holster. Rising, the blade hissed back into its sheath, voices increasing, shouting. 10 beating hearts.

She ran as if her life depended on it, it did. Torches were starting to gravitate towards the prone soldiers, slicing through the dark but none would see her unless they looked in a different direction; each leg a piston one after another, arms pumping her body forward, lungs systematically oxygenating cells: the human body, every sinew and muscle operating at its very peak. She arced around through eleven and twelve, just outside the camps perimeter, half way. Random shouting interspersed by crackling gunfire cut through the early morning air, aimed at the pinpointed night she had vacated some 150 paces earlier.

At 300 paces she stopped and dropped to one knee, gasping in air, now at two o'clock on the other side of the camp. Too late. Just behind and to her left the open palm whipped across the side of her head: knocking her sprawling to the ground and then grabbing her by the loose material of her shirt and dragging her grasping further into the dark. He released his grip, rolled her face up and knelt astride her chest with each of her arms pinned beneath his legs; a large hand pushed down over her mouth, leaning close. Refocusing her wide eyes she took in the large oval face and white teeth, the suffocating smell of his calloused palm. There was only one path available to her: she burst into tears.

There are few, even of the dark hearted variety that will not react to the abject dejection of a crying girl child, especially one this pretty: he smiled, shifting his weight from the hand covering her mouth: she bit down hard, her white teeth ploughing through skin and flesh until halted by bone. Cursing he pulled back and used the same hand hard across her face and then leaning down closer, the grin now wider, his breath tumbling over her cheeks. Looking straight back with panicked eyes almost veiled she sucked in as much air as her depleted lungs would allow and spat 5 leaves worth of herb directly into his face - they are bitter to the taste but the extract mixed with saliva causes excruciating pain to open wounds and membrane, such as that found in the eyes. He instantly swayed back cursing while she wriggled her right arm free and then used every ounce of strength mustered from that shoulder down through palm to pummel the available nerves, inside top of his thigh: eight hard, excruciating blows while he desperately wiped at his eyes before pushing away and rolling to the side; while she rolled to the other. Steel sighed against steel, collaborating with the moon to provide him with a blurred image as she descended, serving judgement.

Regulating her breathing, she refuelled oxygen while stroking the hair from his forehead. The last of life wheezed through his bloody lips: 9 beating hearts. Another herb passed into her mouth, they were bitter and did sting but at times like this she quite liked the pain. Checking first her precious wooden pin she then made sure the gun was still holstered, returned the blade to its sheath and ran fingers over the short knives beneath her top; minds cadence easing back into the steady two beat. They were starting to fan out, working back through the camp; their minds full of hope and fear encroaching upon her own. Some hunted in expectation of glory, others cool and methodical, while a few shrunk with terror closing about them. Through the echo of all their thoughts she saw images of female faces, wide eyed children and far off places, of homes and friends; of a violent finale, dealt by this unseen dark shadow.

Her quest stretched out before her: a corridor that reached from two o'clock down to four; grounded in mud, topped with the clear night sky and courted either side by a row of tents and constantly shifting fabric. A new day threatened on the horizon. Time to dance.

She stepped around the corner: there were two walking towards her, one either side of the corridor, the second just embarking on a stride six paces diagonally to the right, the first two paces directly in front; wide eyed, lips forming around some exclamation, stepping backwards, the rising barrel spewing molten lumps into the ground and air - now vacated. Rolling to her right she came up and extended her arm in one quick fluid motion: the small dagger, weighted heavy at both ends tumbled, an insect passing through air, travelling from fingertip to thyroid before he even planted his foot onto the ground. Reaching for the hilt with her left hand, pulling the blade free she arced it anticlockwise through a full circle above her wooden pin before chopping down diagonally from right to left, into the frantically turning flesh just above hip and below ribcage; halting her momentum with a planted left foot while his weapon fired into the unconcerned sky, passing over her head. She stepped forward blade extending upwards: 8 beating hearts. Pulling the steel free she stepped over to the writhing figure, hands clutching at throat, eyes wild following her every step. Just a child, so small in those loose clothes, hair pulled back tight from her face, that slender neck, those large fierce eyes. 7 beating hearts. She dragged the blade across the redundant zipped jacket, one side then the other, leaving behind a dark smear - his fear drifting from her mind. Eight more steps and she would have as much of the corridor behind her, as she had in front.

The next was waiting just beyond, crouched inside the canvassed frame, waiting for that tell tale foot fall with pistol raised and grasped between two hot fearful hands. Reaching down she pulled the pumps from her feet and tossed them in quick succession just beyond the flapped entrance: the ground around and between these manufactured objects jumped five times in quick succession, mud ascending in clouds before drifting away back to earth. Silence. The ground nearer kicked skywards, leaving a wrench in fabric and another, closer still; a muted groan freed itself from somewhere just above her diaphragm, the dust settling on her still form. Silence. The soft click of metal pushed against metal, a releasing spring ejecting a magazine. Three rapid paces and through the flap, the long blade dragged just above both knees cutting through material, flesh and sinew. He fell as a tower with its supporting structures blown away, his mouth wide in agony, gun and magazine making their separate way at gravity's invitation, frantic eyes tracing the arc of this nemesis as she glided around him. Steel breached his flesh from back through front, the slow hiss of air heralding 6 beating hearts.

Stepping from the tent, wild light traced along the corridor, its journey hurried and erratic, pausing on the flapped entrance now vacated; her shape vaguely suggested at the foot of this light's pool as he swept the rifle towards this rough shadow, a battle scream rising from deep inside. Pulling hard on the trigger the pin recoiled from each explosion, detonating another, ten per second right through to empty; 30 rounds tearing through the air in ever higher succession, peppering the ground, canvas and lost to the night above. Dust drifted, echoes escaped to the horizon, fleeting silence and a deaths toll: two blows slammed into his chest, a dark kneeling smudge passing through visions periphery as the force lifted him from his feet, the torch rolling careless over the hard floor.

Rising she looked sideways at the perforated tent and breathed out: too close. Standing over him she checked chamber and re-holstered the weapon, he was still wearing his coveralls, discoloured through an age poised above a stove; the image of his last thought played out in her mind. 5 beating hearts.

Having pulled back on her shoes, one now sporting a ragged hole through tongue and sole, she reached under her smock and pulled free one of the small daggers. The gap between each tent linked each corridor to the next. She eased into this narrow dark space, grass had grown here, long and hopeful, free of the wind and blessed at least in part by sun's sweet caress. Crouched down three paces from the edge, the next corridor stretched from twelve o'clock down through six. Their three beating hearts were slow and methodical, each one a point on a disjointed triangle sweeping towards an assassins signature. Her mind raced, long lashes blink over wide calculating eyes. They paced onwards, drew level. Her moment. She imagined their screams, their pain through cleaved flesh and muscle. Tears for their bereaved fell upon her cheeks. Drained and suddenly cold she huddled back against canvas, tired for this: their pain in her mind. They swept by, her form a shadow within shadow, unnoticed. Long grass folded one step at her right, half way through turning to meet the sounds source her head met with a clenched fist travelling in the opposite direction. Rough hands hoisted her pliable form high and carried her back through the narrow gap.

She lay on her side, on the floor. Her eyes were blindfolded and hands bound tightly at her back - immediately testing for any slack. Judging from the ceaseless material all around she was in one of the structures, from the smell she guessed it was where they ate. There were five of their beating hearts: a slower symphony; she knew the first was close from his breathing and constant fidgeting, probably a few paces over in the corner, sitting on a chair. The second and third were just outside, the fourth was away at the two o'clock mark manhandling a body. The fifth was her concern: at least a corridor away but on the move, his rage almost blotting out all else she could sense. From just past her feet static burst into the air, intermingled with high pitched tones and then silence. Slow furtive movement revealed that for some reason her feet were not bound. She reappraised that this was probably some sort of communications tent.

4 beating hearts. Her guardian lowered the body to the ground and glided to the end of the corridor, looking down its length: two guards outside the tent at the far end. A squat, wide man hastily dressed stepped through the gap from an adjoining corridor and ignoring the two soldiers pushed inside. The guardian reached beneath his top, closed his fingers around an elliptical piece of wood and pulling it free, held this as if to skim a stone across water. He waited.

She heard the fabric slide open and then fall back into place. The soldier in the corner stood to a barked order, anger laced with stress shaping the sound. Something light and metal was lifted and planted just in front of her body. Steps around her head. Lifted to standing by the fabric of her top, she was marched in a small arc and pushed down onto a chair. Sensing him moving away as the fourth stepped forward; the cloth was ripped from her eyes, his flat hand as if wood struck her hard across the left cheek. Running her tongue over teeth and gum she looked back up at him, easing light into her dilated pupils and taking stock. The soldier was standing rigid in the corner over to her right, this new arrival was stood directly in front of her, hands on hips, chewing ceaselessly on his lip. He was short, probably a head or so higher than her and more than 20kilos past his prime. From his powerful shoulders hung a green military shirt loose over combats, he had certainly not put all he had into the last blow. Stepping forward once more this time she felt the back of his hand across her other cheek. Anger pulsed through his every movement.

“Where are your friends?”

She looked back at him with wide puzzled eyes.

“You will tell me! Are there five more, ten? Where are they?” The last rising to a scream.

“Who are they to come and do this?”

“I don't have any friends.” Her voice: a hesitant melody at odds with this place and setting.


“I don't have any friends”

“A little girl like you alone here without friends, my child you had better hope you are someone's friend!” Stepping forward again he struck the back of his hand across her face, harder this time, the chair rocked backwards.

She looked right back at him but the fire was fading from her eyes; her head was thick with pain and the battle to subdue tears was being lost.

“Tell me! Otherwise I can give you to my men here,” he cast his eyes over to the soldier in the corner, “they have a few questions for you and may not be so polite ...”

“There is one other,” she fumbled on the statement, now holding the rope binds loosely behind her back.

“One! Rubbish, these are some of my best men, one man is not enough!” He looked down at the impudent face, her eyes blinking away tears.

She uttered the next with total prescience for each words consequence: “There is only one, he is outside. You should go and check.”

Shaking his head incredulously, he stooped down in front of her, hands on knees, looking into these insolent child eyes before straightening his spine, stumbling over words caught at the back of his throat. Staring down at her trying to control his anger, failing, coming to a conclusion: he hit her again with the flat of his palm, this time moving into the blow using the bulk of his shoulders. She was sent sprawling into the side of the tent, he was on her instantly, reaching down and pulling her into the air. His face bulged square and ruddy, great white eyes around dark brown an infinite fury just inches from hers. Half pushing, half throwing her back into the chair he marched out of the tent, his two beat wild and dangerously out of control. Trying hard to collect her senses more tears crept from her eyes. Outside another barked order, the sound of movement and back through the flap chambering a round into a pistol, standing looking directly at her; long lashes blinked over wide calculating eyes.

There is a moment in every such situation when opportunity presents itself, usually more than once. These may not always be clear and often will not lead to a satisfactory conclusion but they will present. Her opportunity was heralded high above by a thin elliptical piece of wood emitting a low cry as if a bird issuing a warning or just marking its position, fading into the distance. For a fraction of a heart's beat, both her hosts were lost to the fading sound; dropping the rope binds to the floor she shifted her weight onto her left leg - outside a pumping two beat came to an end: 3 beating hearts. Propelling herself standing, one long stride through heel, ball then calf she sprang into the air, screaming with the effort, landing a fraction after his eyes swept back at the blur, her legs riding his wide chest while locking her left hand into his thick hair, the right driving her wooden pin through his left iris. 2 beating hearts. The staccato beat of random fire and a muffled scream outside. 1 beating heart. Busy lifting his rifle to meet its target, the soldier in the corner took the slack from the malleable metal trigger, her small form emerging to its path as she rolled away from the falling body; some part of his subconscious tripping on the chill night air that swept from around his legs but he was locked into this moment, easing his index finger fully back on the metal. There was nowhere for her to go, there was no need: the bullet ejected spiralling, waved on by a burst of flame, tearing through fabric and high climbing into the night sky.

The guardian looked over at the squat figure laying face up, wooden pin protruding unnaturally from the lifeless eye. Just their two beating hearts. His concerned eyes looked her over as he eased the rifle out of the soldiers warm hand, laying both body and weapon on the floor.

Adrenaline now spent she climbed slowly to her feet, small and shivering, arms limp at her side. Her journey's story was etched into the small stained face, tears she had fought to restrain ran and mixed with the archaic pattern.

“I am sorry.” Stood there now, she was devoid of everything but the child: “I let you down,” sniffing back, she wiped an index finger across her upper lip, leaving a small clean trail in its wake. He stepped over and lowering himself onto both knees, levelled his eyes with hers: an infinite universe of turmoil.

“No you didn't!”

Tears ran free: “I can feel them you know. In my mind, their pain, all about them, it is too much.” He knew of course. She half stepped towards him, uncertain. A protector's smile, he gathered her into his arms and held her close, felt the sob rising through her narrow back, tears dripping onto his shoulder, her body shuddered with each breath; something almost primal in her cry. Holding gently, he waited, his physical space had been safeties harbour for all her time.

“You cannot change who you are Jane, it is what you are.”

He placed his hands on each shoulder and stepped her back, a face of rivulets and muddy shores. In a few years she would be a women, loved no less by him but this child was so precious in so many ways, not least as a perfect echo of her mother. Licking the pad of each thumb he wiped blood from the edges of her mouth and pushed up the corners in some semblance of an involuntary smile, his aura was a balm for her burden. Struggling to control her lips, she sniffed in defiance and let sunset burst into that smile.

“If you did not feel this, cry for these,“ he paused pushing matted hair back into some semblance of shape, “then you could not be what you are! It is why you are.” He rose through the balls of his feet to full height, resting his hand on her shoulder. “Now come, my little warrior.” He turned and stepped from the tent.

Dawn was busy washing away night's sky with tones of orange, watered blues and hues of grey. He heard her top pulled free, refastening the belt across her chest, the strapping first of holster and then her blade, checking chamber: its resonant slide, heard her slide the top back on. Their landrover sat an hour beyond the larger waves of landscape, he started towards it. Silence. Through her minds eye he saw her retrieving the wooden pin, cleaning it on the green shirt and pushing it back into her hair; heard her move through the thick fabric, footsteps pacing quicker behind him, imagined her body travelling through air, arms and legs wide. She landed full on his back, linking her hands around his neck, he linking his at the front, clamping her legs to his body. She spoke with her mouth next to his ear, he felt the warmth of her breath: “I used the herbs,” he smiled. “I know. Now sleep, we have a long day ahead.”

Her breath became increasingly infrequent as the camp shrunk behind them. Soon her head rocked gently, her precious wooden pin: a mothers gift, occasionally digging into his neck, he never minded.

Lowering her into the seat, he strapped her in. Life for her would never be much different, it was her destiny. Over time though, with her transforming body, this burden of mind would shape her: a magnificent creature.

Submission: 19 November 2006
Revision: 15 January 2007