Recap: The Connarii prepare to enter the red jungle. Exiled from their homes, they welcome the easy hunting and shelter of the alien landscape over the strange emptiness of the mists they first arrived in. Camlin and Edana each struggle for recognition and power, as co-captains of the Connarii forces. Camlin leads the charge to set up camp and build a new life in the jungle, but Edana responds with trepidation to the stained landscape, wary of Aislynn’s ominous visions and on guard against the promise of danger to come.
“All right there, boys?” Edana started on yet another round, creeping along the edge of the camp to check on her guards stationed in pairs, equidistant around the perimeter of the sleeping masses. Though each pair kept a flame burning bright, the central campfires had dimmed to smoldering coals, and under the thick canopy the humid air was nearly opaque.
“Nothing to report, captain.” One of the men replied. His partner stifled a yawn.
“Stay alert just a little longer,” Edana advised. “You’ve done a good job – and it’s nearly time for Camlin’s boys to take their turn.” She moved along to the next pair of sentries.
The guards whipped round, tangled together and nearly fell at her feet. Evidently they hadn’t noticed her approach.
“C-clear.” One stammered, trying to salute, regain his balance and stand at attention all at once. Edana stiffened.
“Tell me.” Her eyes narrowed as she peered out into the deep shadows through the trees. The flames behind her tricked the eye, hinting at an enemy behind every bush and trunk while revealing nothing.
“He’s just imagining things.” The second guard gestured towards his partner, misreading his position and awkwardly smacking him on the chest in the flickering light.
“And just what-” Edana shot the pair a hard look before turning back to the jungle, “-is he imagining?”
The men – boys, really – hesitated, shifting their weight. One fiddled with a bit of string tied around his wrist – a charm, perhaps, or a lover’s token. The other held both hands behind his back as if he were standing at attention, though his shoulders rolled forward protectively. Both were nervous; neither was ready for anything, much less a surprise attack. Edana was torn between reprimanding them and addressing the possibility of danger. She settled for a mix of the two.
“What are you here for?” She said. A whisper wouldn’t have had the effect she was looking for, but she took pains to keep her voice low and even, scanning the trees as she spoke.
“To keep watch?” One of the guards answered doubtfully from behind her.
“Which makes you…?”
“And I am?”
“A pri– the! – the princess?”
Edana couldn’t suppress a huff of irritation at the tentative response.
“The captain?” The other guard spoke up, equally hesitant.
Edana risked a look back, making eye contact with each guard as they listened to the crack of the fire and distant rustling.
“You’re sentries. I’m captain. Your job is simple. You keep watch and tell me when anything – anything, you hear? – happens.”
“Yessir.” The sentries replied doubtfully. “Er, ma’am, uh…”
“Captain.” Edana supplied. “Yes ‘captain’. Now, get on with that report.”
She turned back to the trees, alert. One hand rested lightly on the hilt of a throwing knife. The other hung at her side, relaxed, ready to reach for a weapon or guard as the situation demanded. This pair of poor excuses for warriors might have gotten themselves all worked up about nothing… but then again, they might not. They were young, inexperienced. Untried and in a strange place, they might be seeing phantoms in the smoke and shadows… or there might be something out there. Edana thought it a certainty that eyes watched them in the dark; the question was, were they harmless prey or something more sinister?
“It’s really nothing, captain.”
Edana barely restrained herself from spinning to pounce on the fool. How dim could those two be?
“Tell me about this ‘nothing’ that has you two so worked up as to forget your duty.” She clipped each word, edged it in steel and sent it back to impale the two idiots. They, unfortunately, didn’t seem to pick up on their precarious position.
“Well, captain, it’s just this; we’ve been hearing somethin’ moving, for a while now… something scurrying, like. ‘Bout since the fires started dimming low.”
Edana thought there was an excellent chance it was nothing more than the local wildlife getting curious about the camp. The guards were fools, getting worked up about nothing. Still, she’d be diligent in collecting the report, if only to drill the boys in proper procedure.
“Scurrying where?” She asked.
“Can’t see nothing in this here murk,” the guard flapped a hand at the shadows between the trees. “But on the ground mostly, off that-a way, roughly.”
“Probably just some of those tasty little things we ate for dinner, coming back to volunteer for breakfast,” she said, testing them.
“Nah. We thought ’a that too,” one guard said, too fast. The other chimed in, “these sound different. Drier. Sort of clicking or scraping. An’ there’s an awful lot of them. Seems to have backed off since we stirred up the perimeter fires, but… Hear that?”
Edana tilted her head and listened, eyes narrowed. There was… something rustling, just at the edge of her perception, but in an unknown land, it stood to reason that there would be some local wildlife investigating the newcomers. As long as they kept their distance…
“Thank you for your report.” Edana said, her eyes straining to peer into the gloom. “I will check with the other sentries. Perhaps some of them will have noticed a similar phenomenon.”
“We’re not making this up, captain.”
“No. No, of course not. I’m sure you wouldn’t do that.” The guards ducked their heads under Edana’s glare, shuffling their feet. “Shift change in less than an hour. Keep an eye out ‘til then. I expect to hear immediately if you notice anything more.”
Edana continued around the perimeter of guards. Several made similar reports, all equally vague, most more forthcoming with their reports than the slow pair of guards. Edana made a mental note to shuffle the pairs and make sure the slow ones at least had a sharper partner for the next night’s watch. She sent them all off to bed when Camlin showed up with his watch, then took Camlin off to one side.
“Tough night? Ready to hand them over yet?” Camlin grinned, acting like his lot weren’t knuckling the sleep out of their eyes and stamping in place, blinking bleary eyes and yawning. Edana sighed.
“Look. I realize you’re having trouble with this, but back off. I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not handing my men over to you. I’ve got a job to do, as do you. Focus!” She paused, tilting her head back to look down her nose at Camlin, who merely looked amused. Apparently he was tired enough to leave the worst of his needling alone. Good enough. “Now – no serious disturbances to report in the first watch, but a number of my men have observed some sort of activity ten to fifteen feet out from the perimeter. Activity increases as the fires dim, so keep them burning bright and you shouldn’t see any trouble.”
“Men seeing ghosts already, ‘Dana?” – apparently he wasn’t that tired after all - You’ve got to keep a firm grip on the reins. Those boys’ll walk all over you if you give them an inch. Just goes to show a woman can’t-”
“Enough of that talk.” Edana stepped closer, rising on her toes to glare at Camlin from, if not eye-level, as close as she could get. He smirked. “I’ll thank you to leave my leadership out of this. We’re going to have to work together to keep everyone safe. Just keep the fires burning and worry about your own men; mine are safe in bed by now.”
Edana whirled away to head back towards the sleeping tribe, but Camlin reached out and caught her wrist. Startled, she reached for her weapons before remembering herself. She stared back at Camlin, fingertips edging a dagger from its hilt.
“Edana…” Camlin began haltingly, looking first at the ground, then raising his eyes to her face. “Edana, it doesn’t need to be like this. I had thought… I had hoped one day that we might… Well, you are the chief’s eldest daughter, and I-I am well respected by much of the Connarii. Foremost among the young men of our generation.” Camlin’s mouth twisted from the smirk he always faced Edana with into the winning smile that he’d built a following on. He continued, his tone conflicted, an undercurrent of pleading spoiling his practiced speech, “I had always expected that we would rule the Connarii together-”
Edana stared in stunned silence for a moment, then smiled.
“So, as a proclamation of your undying love and devotion, you decided to oppose and mock my every move. Makes sense.” She tugged against Camlin’s grip, more than ready to leave.
“Now listen, ‘Dana. A man is head of his household, as the chief is head of the tribe. A wife serves her husband, encouraging and strengthening him. You upset the natural balance, taking leadership upon yourself and removing it from its rightful holder.”
“Idiot!” Edana pushed forward, jamming her heel down on Camlin’s foot and shoving against his chest. Her charge threw him off balance, and his grip loosened as he staggered back, tripping. “I would never marry you. This much you got right; I am not a man. I am a person. You make it sound as if they are one and the same. I will not turn my back and deny my own gifts and abilities merely because they are most commonly found in men. I can fight, therefore I will fight to protect and aid my people. I fight better than the other warriors, therefore I will lead them in battle.”
The heads of the nearest guards had turned when Edana knocked Camlin back; now more watched as she stood over him, ranting. “I was not created to serve a man like you. I wasn’t born to confer upon some greedy and arrogant male the title of chief. I will not marry you and lend my inheritance to your lust for power.”
Edana spun on her heel and stalked away, but after only a few steps, she slowed and spoke without turning back. “We grew up together. We are of the same tribe, but we are not the same. You would make the Connarii weak, by holding to outmoded opinions and customs. Look around you. Everything has changed. So must we change – our perceptions and roles must likewise shift if the Connarii are to adapt.”
“Not a terribly flattering response. Would it help if I said I loved you?” Camlin picked himself up from the dirt, shaking it off while baring his teeth in tight mimicry of a grin.
“Love?” Edana whirled. “What do you know of love? Love does not imprison and bind. Love allows for growth and change. You desire. You pursue power and control with single-minded passion and commitment. Do not speak of me to love. At least do me the honour of honest speech as you always have in the past. You desire my title. Perhaps you even desire my presence by your side as you rule. You do not love me for myself.”
Camlin’s grin widened, his teeth catching the firelight as they ground together.
“A child such as you must not be held accountable for her naivety. For now, I will excuse your foolishness. I must see to my men.” Camlin turned his back and stalked away.
“Child!” Edana huffed, standing for a moment vibrating with rage. She considered rushing after him. “Child indeed! Just because he’s a measly two years older! I thought that was a very fine speech… spur of the moment, maybe, but still! Lucky he didn’t recognize it…”
Edana stomped into her father’s camp. Toryn was snoring peacefully, but Aislynn peeped out of one eye, taking in her sulking sister.
“What is it now?” She raised herself up on one arm, yawning. Edana shot her a dirty look, which wavered and collapsed into a smirk. She started giggling, sitting down quite suddenly as all the tension in her dissolved into a sort of shaky hysteria.
“Camlin just proposed.”
“Proposed what?” Aislynn yawned again, blinking.
“Saw that one coming. So?”
“He was being insulting, so I gave him this great spiel from one of your ballads. You know, the one about love and freedom?”
“You quoted ‘Gareth and Meaghwynn’ to him?”
“Uh-huh. You should have seen his face!”
“Serves him right for always skipping out when I’m telling a story.” Aislynn nodded once to herself, amused. “So that means you didn’t accept?”
“Well, he is a captain of the Connarii. Fine catch, wouldn’t you say?”
“Take this!” Edana hurled a rolled-up blanket into her sister’s face. Aislynn flung it back, grinning evilly.
“Treat me like that and I’ll tell father you accepted tomorrow morning while you’re off with the watch.”
“You wouldn’t dare! My own sister, a traitor!”
“Go to sleep.”
“Aislynn… you wouldn’t.”
“Go to sleep.”
“You’re right. I would never risk saying something like that to daddy. He might die of shock. Imagine, his wild-child, engaged – and to a fine young man like Camlin!”
“Aren’t you a riot tonight. If I weren’t so tired, I’d come over there and strangle you.”
“Hmm. Go to sleep. I promise I won’t say anything to father. Just be careful. I hear jilted lovers can be dangerous.”
“Ha ha. Funny. Hilarious, even. Camlin’s harmless. I’m not. Go to sleep before I come over there and silence you.”
“Promises. Sleep. Now. ‘Night.”
Aislynn rolled over and fell asleep. Edana piled her weapons in a heap and rolled up beside them in her blanket. Despite what she’d told Aislynn, she didn’t feel like she could sleep at all. Less than forty-eight hours ago her entire tribe had been hurled out of the world. She fought and won the right to captain at least a portion of the Connarii warriors. She had challenged, and to a certain degree overcome, generations-old gender relations. Camlin had proposed… sort of. And then there were those creatures that the watch had noticed. What dangers would she face? Unknown challenges faced her and the Connarii both from within and without their ranks. There was no way to anticipate… but Edana was mistaken. The excitement had taken its toll, and she fell asleep mid-thought.