Yena’s song stopped abruptly as Katora pulled the last strand from her fingers, and the sudden silence was followed by a loud shriek.
Katora grabbed her knife and crept around the edge of the rock. Two men approached Yena, who stood, one sandal clutched to her breast.
“Ah, a plump beauty, eh, Oneks?” The tallest one wiped his hands on his dusty loincloth as he advanced toward Yena. “What are you doing out here alone, pretty one?’
“She’s not alone.” Oneks kicked Katora’s basket, spilling its contents to the ground. “Two baskets — two women — one for each. Jangwu rewards us after a long hunt, Tekah.”
“Well, this one’s mine.” He grabbed Yena’s arm and pulled her toward him, knocking her sandals to the dirt. “When the other one gets back you can have her first.” Yena’s face went white as he ripped her blouse and pushed her in the dirt.
“You leave her alone!” Katora jumped from behind the rock and slashed at Tekah with her knife. Blood began to ooze from a long shallow cut on his shoulder and upper arm. He leaped away from Yena and turned to face his attacker. Katora moved back, keeping both men in front of her.
“You skinny little witch.” Tekah pulled his own knife and took a step toward her. “Watch the other one.”
Oneks grabbed Yena and twisted her arms behind her. “Don’t kill her yet.”
“I’m just going to cut her a little. Teach her her place. She’ll still be plenty lively for you.” He took another step and slashed at Katora, who jumped back and to one side.
“I know we shouldn’t have come so far.” Yena’s voice was thick with tears.
“Come, little stick-weed, come to me.” Tekah began to circle around her.
“Hurry up,” called Oneks. “Don’t play with her. “I’ll do that after you get the knife away.” He laughed.
Katora dashed in and out, slicing the inside of Tekah’s thigh. He staggered an instant, then continued his advance. “The more you cut me, the more I’ll cut you.” He grinned, flashing white teeth in his brown face, then lunged toward her. She took a step to the side and caught her foot on the edge of her long skirt. She tripped and her knife flew out of her hands.
“Wait till the Voynzi find out about this.” Yena yelled.
“Oh, Jangwu take the Voynzi.” Tekah placed one heavy foot on Katora’s skirt. She tugged at it, then turned her head away from the sour smell of his breath as he bent toward her. “Should I cut you now or later? Maybe a little now, eh?” His knife pricked the skin of her cheek. “And a lot more later?”
If I hadn’t been wearing that Jangwu-cursed skirt! Katora clawed at the offending garment. It would be easier to fight naked, than with….
A shrill hum pierced the afternoon air. Katora looked up to see a black void floating about six feet above the ground. Tekah gasped and backed away from her.
“Men should be careful of how they speak of Nyote’s priestesses.” Wanti’s quiet voice issued from the blackness. “And they should be very careful of how they treat those who are under our care.”
Tekah blanched and dropped his knife. “Oh, Voyni, we didn’t mean. . .”
“Of course you did. Men are creatures of Jangwu and can’t help themselves.” Her voice rose in pitch. “Now are you going to go about your business, or do I have to come there in person?” She began to sing.
“We’re leaving, Voyni.” Oneks had released Yena “Come on, Tekah.”
“I’m coming.” Tekah glanced at the disk, then bent and scooped up his knife. He scowled, then stalked away.
“Praise Nyote.” Yena bowed in the direction of Wanti’s voice.
“Praise She Who Watches Over all Life,” added Katora. And may She Choose me to be Hers so I’ll be able to defend myself with magic as well as with material weapons.
“Well, girls,” Wanti’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Don’t you think it’s time you returned to camp?”
“Yes, Voyni. Just let me repair Yena’s blouse and gather our things, and we’ll start back.”
“Nyori wants to see you when you get back, Katorathe.” The black disk that marked Wanti’s presence dwindled and disappeared.
This is a work-in-progress, but close to being done.