Nyri’s dragon companion, Y’elt had grown to his full adult height of 12 feet with an impressive wingspan of 8 feet. In his years with Nyri two strange things happened; his human companion never seemed to age and he had learned the art of shape shifting taking the shape of a human man. He blended in fairly well save for his unnatural citrine eyes.
As for Nyri, she was in charge of new captives converting them to the ways of the H’enigh and preparing them for their initiation. The latest of which she was watching her carefully as the woman took up her bow and arrow targeting a squirrel. A branch crunched beneath a foot and the arrow was now aimed at the branch cruncher.
“You of all people should know better than to sneak up on someone like that.” The woman said annoyed.
“I want to speak with you in private if I may,Kiera.”
“Isn’t it bad timing to ask right before the ceremony?” her companion asked once the leader’s son and Kiera were out of ear shot.
“To him there is no such thing.”
Nyri shot the arrow nailing a squirrel to the tree. Walking over to the tree she pulled the arrow out of the animal cleaned it off and was about to toss the squirrel when she saw the look in her companion’s eyes.
“Still not above eating squirrels are you?”
“They make a good snack between meals.” He shrugged.
With a sigh she handed it to him, “Don’t let anyone catch you eating it in your current form.”
He nodded, taking the squirrel from her.
She headed back to the village where she found a very amused Qhanna who was preparing cloth bandages outside of her hut.
“Better watch out. Kiera’s in a mood.”
“Apparently Shenlaer thought she would make a good wife and didn’t quite understand the word ‘no’.”
“I will talk to him.”
It didn’t take long to find him as he was attempting to clean his sword one-handed as his right arm was self-bandaged and bleeding.
“Allow me.” She said, taking the weapon from his hand, cleaning it and sharpening it against the sharpening stone.
“Did my father send you?” he asked suspicious.
“No. He would be disappointed you are proposing to initiates.”
“The ceremony is tonight, I thought –“
“She has not yet been branded so even if she accepted by law you would not be able to ask until she is.”
“I didn’t want to wait.”
“Obviously. Your bandaging skills leave a lot to be desired. You will attract predators if you leave that be. Let me re-wrap it.”
He nodded, holding still as she expertly unraveled the cloth and re-wrapped his arm. He opened his mouth as if to speak but she stopped him.
“You know I cannot marry you. We were raised as siblings.”
“Who is the one that has your heart then?”
“There is no one.”
“Is it the one who follows you around with strange eyes like yours?”
Her eyes flashed dangerously, “There are others more eligible to be your wife than myself and Kiera. Perhaps you should ask them.”
Kiera lay on her cot in her hut fuming about Shenlaer’s audacity to propose to her.
“It is time.” A voice cut through her thoughts.
She turned seeing Nyri standing at the doorway to her hut.
She got up quietly and followed the woman to the outskirts of the tribe’s territory.
There stood seven other initiates, most of which were children there was another about her age a sturdy young man who stood facing the crowd of tribe members and their leader, Shanor who was holding a red-hot branding iron.
“You are all here today because you have been chosen to become a true H’enigh. Your last test is to bear the scar of the tribe on your right arm. The right side of our bodies is the source of our strength. Not all of you will pass this final test. To cry out in pain is a sign of weakness we are the H’enigh, we do not show weakness even in the face of death. “
As the iron dug into her skin a memory surfaced, a city burning the smell of burnt flesh screams, destruction everywhere and someone pulling on her arm trying to drag her away from it all but there was something in the burning ruins of a castle she wanted to see…she blinked and the memory faded just as quickly as it had appeared.
Shanor’s gravelly voice brought her back to the present, “You are now a H’enigh. May your enemies tremble in fear for the Goddess of Death Herself will protect and guard you.”
As he moved to the next initiate, she looked down at burnt skin and saw the insignia of a bird; it was a hawk that symbolized the quickness as well as deadliness in which the tribe embodied.
She heard someone cry out, her attention turned to the small boy who was holding his arm where the hot iron had touched him tears streaming down his face.
The leader’s voice thundered, “If you cannot bear the pain of the brand then you cannot bear the pain of death with dignity. You have no place in this tribe.”
She saw movement in the corner of her eye, it was the boy’s mother who tried to move towards him to comfort him, but it was Nyri who held her back shaking her head slightly.
“Leave this tribe for you will disgrace us all.”
The boy turned to look at his mother one last time before two warriors approached him armed with spears pointing him towards the woods. He wiped his face with the back of his hand and walked out of the view of the tribe into the forest.
“Isn’t it a bit harsh to exile a child?” Kiera asked after the ceremony was over as the healer, Qhanna was bandaging her arm.
“It is punishment for showing pain.” She said softly, pulling the cloth tight and tying it off under her arm.
“He was only a child.”
“To be a H’enigh is to show no weakness. In showing weakness he proved he could not withstand a raid or grueling hunts and now has to survive on his own.”
“You can’t possibly believe he would last a day in those woods.”
The healer looked around quickly to make sure no one else was around and whispered,“No, there are others who have been exiled that live in the nearby villages. They will come and take him to safety to Noam.” it was then she straightened up and in her normal voice said,” your wound has been bandaged warrior, now go.”
She went to the cave that was a sacred place for her mentor. There was nothing but drawings on the floor and the smell of a spent fire. She bent over to get a closer look at the drawings hoping they would lead her to Nyri’s whereabouts when a voice broke her concentration.
“Looking for Nyri?”
She nearly jumped, looking up, it was Y’elt.
“She’s out hunting. You seem troubled.”
“I want to know where I came from. “
“Does it make a difference to you? You are a H’enigh now.”
“I could have a family out there would you deny me knowing that?”
“You were spared a worse fate than death.”
“What do you mean?”
“That is all I am permitted to say. Talk to Nyri if you wish to know more.”