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And Itza Danced coverAnother bandit comes to Itza, telling her to surrender. His son is being held captive and Elveric has sent him to negotiate. She tells him to go to Elveric and tell him that she will agree to fight him again—to the death.

“If you don’t, your son dies. Is that what you want?”

“He’ll kill me!”

“Then you’ll go to your rest knowing you did what you could and I’ll raise your boy after I beat Elveric. It’s the best deal you’re likely to get. Elveric won’t give you the same promise, will he?”

Shaking his head sadly and heavily, Vilfort slunk away to talk to Elveric. She did not expect to see the man again, but hoped he’d live long enough to see his boy freed. Meanwhile, she went to find her uncle and some of the other elders of the village. Preparations must be made to protect the rest of the people. A short while later, she had spoken to them all, and waited for their reply. Her uncle spoke up first.

“You’ve made up your mind already to fight him?”

She nodded. “Yes, I see no other option.”

“We should send to the outlying villages for help.”

Onrich, one of the elders said. He was an old man of an undisclosed age. The village grandparents remembered him from their youth, he was old even then.

Uncle Brev frowned and shook his head. “He’ll be watching the roads and kill anyone who tries to leave.”

“How do you know?” Onrich was angry at being contradicted.

“Because it’s exactly what I’d do,” Brev replied, pinching his lower lip with his fingers while he thought. “There might be a way,” he whispered. “Yes, that might just work!”

He rose and the others followed him with their eyes until he was out of sight. He was heading toward the marketplace. A few minutes later, he returned, a broad smile on his lips.

“What did you do?” Onrich demanded.

“I happened to remember that Oot has been training some birds to fly places and come back. Well, his brothers in the other villages have been doing the same. He’s sending them messages now. Who will notice a few birds flying over?” He chuckled.

There was a growing disturbance on the far side of the village, near the cornfields. Itza rose and the men followed her as she ran over to see what was wrong. A little boy of about Bastia’s age stood in the road, a heavy, bloody sack in his hands, weeping uncontrollably. He looked fine other than being filthy.

Itza knelt beside him and took the gruesome package from him. She had a good idea what it contained. This must be Vilfort’s son and this was another message from Elveric. The little boy snuffled and wiped his nose on a grime crusted sleeve.

“Be ye head woman?”

“Yes.”

“I’s got a message from Elveric. My Da spoke to himself about yer fight. Elveric said yer answer be in the bag with…. with….” He burst into tears again.

Brev had taken the bag away and set it down beneath a tree in front of the elders. It contained Vilfort’s severed head with two words carved into the flesh, “I accept.”

Itza fought down the bile rising in her throat, motioning for it to be put away.

“Bury him.”

She gagged, stumbling back to her house where she slammed the door to her room and wept bitterly for awhile. Then she went to the family shrine and prayed for guidance and strength in her upcoming battle. Her main concern was to keep her people safe.

There was a light step on the porch outside the shrine and Aunt Anasafe was standing in the doorway behind her. She took off her shoes and knelt beside Itza in front of the shrine, lighting a stick of aromatic incense. Her hand crept over, taking Itza’s in a firm and comforting grip. Itza felt love from her aunt, flowing into her, making her strong.

“It will be all right, Itza. You can do this, you are much stronger than you know.” Her smile was tinged with tears. “There is nothing I can tell you that will help, nothing I can do which will make this go away, but my love, my prayers go with you, Itza.” She rose and left, turning to run up the path back to the house.

Itza sat a few more minutes, thinking. She did not know how to pray about this, did not know who to ask or what to ask for. She had so much on her heart, it was impossible to frame it into words. All that came to the fore was, “Help me.” No more.

© 2015 Dellani Oakes

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