Tsarra wondered when home had become the last place she wanted to be.
That same old door that had greeted her with a welcoming creak since before she could hold a javelin was now an untrustworthy friend that would proclaim her failings to the whole house as soon as she stepped inside.
Hours ago, she had stared down a monster, unafraid. Why did her feet fail her now?
Stinging pain suddenly spread across her neck and she hissed. She instinctively raised a hand to touch the wound but forced herself to stop just in time. Heat radiated from the area. Though she hadn’t yet seen the marks that the Great Akan had left her with, she imaged four long, jagged red streaks that curved around her neck.
If she would have been quick enough to dodge the hefty paw, she wouldn’t have had to come back. She could have lived in the forest for ages, trading away her old life for one of thrills and uncertainty.
But inside, she knew that was all only bravado. She could never leave behind her family…
Her eyes stung with tears that had nothing to do with the pain—not the pain from her wound, at least. She pushed her torturous thoughts away and faced the front door as she’d faced the Great Akan: quickly, without thinking about how much she had to lose.
Tsarra stepped forward. She pushed the door open, begging it silently not to creak so loud this time. It listened, and she snuck inside in complete silence.
She found herself going through the motions as she set her clean javelin carefully in the corner of the front room and placed her travelling sack beside it. The house was quiet—this late at night, everyone would be asleep. Still, Tsarra didn’t feel like going to her room; she didn’t deserve it. If she had to show her face back home, she would at least make sure she suffered.
A shiver ran down her spine; one glance at the fireplace told her that the room had been left vacant hours ago. She could light the blaze again, but no—a cold, hard floor to sleep on was exactly what she needed. What she wanted. Maybe, somehow, it would be the start of atonement.
She curled up on the ground, rested her head on her hands, and fell into a fitful sleep.
Tsarra was on her feet in an instant, expecting to find the Great Akan’s fierce brown eyes boring into her. She reached for her javelin, but the only thing on her back was her tunic. Her heart had already begun to beat what it thought was its final cadence before Tsarra’s surroundings registered in her mind. Not the earthy scent of the wild, but the comforting smell of home. The scratchy woven rug. And calling her name…
“Elwin?” she mumbled. Why was he the one she had to see in her dreams—and why were they here, in her parents’ house?
His comforting and familiar scent, like old parchment and woodsmoke, overwhelmed her. With a start, she realised that Elwin was really there. As his gaze roamed over her face, Tsarra’s cheeks lit on fire—at least, that was what it felt like. One of her hands flew to her hair; it was in a long braid that trailed halfway down her back, but after the adventure of the past few days, many stray locks had come free. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what the rest of her looked—let alone smelled—like.
Oddly enough, Elwin was grinning. “Tsarra, I was so worried, you left the note but none of us knew where to find you—” He inhaled a breath in a gasp, pushing his long, dark hair back behind his pointed ears. “I’m so glad you’re safe.”
Tsarra couldn’t even begin to formulate a reply. How could he possibly be here, kneeling in front of her, smiling?
“But…” Her mouth opened and closed as she tried to find words strong enough to convey the terrible truth of what she’d done. “I left you,” she stated, the guilt finally bursting forth as her eyes pricked with tears. “We’re supposed to get married today and I just…” She didn’t know what else to say as Elwin’s expression remained unchanged. Didn’t he realize what she’d done? How much she’d nearly thrown away?
Elwin chuckled, settling down into a more comfortable position on the floor beside her.
“I was a little upset when I saw you were trying to take down the Great Akan,” he said with a small shrug, his gaze downcast as he picked at loose threads in the rug. “But then I realised that it was probably my fault, anyway.”
“No.” Tsarra laid a hand on his knee cautiously, still fearing this was all some cruel trick. “It was my own stupidity. I just had this thought that I wanted…” She steeled her jaw. “I wanted to do something great.”
“Great? Tsarra, you’re one of the greatest people in the village. The greatest, in my opinion.”
Tsarra sighed and rubbed her forehead. She’d thought he’d be angry and leave her with more time to figure out how to say the truth.
“I’m jealous,” she spat out. “Of you.”
Elwin’s eyes widened.
“Everyone knows you because of your histories; you’re regarded by everyone here and in the next ten forests over. I had this thought that maybe I could do something great too. Then, it wouldn’t just be, ‘Wow, there’s Elwin!’ but ‘Wow, there’s Elwin and Tsarra!’” Her cheeks burned hotter than ever. She couldn’t meet his eyes and joined his activity of picking at the rug. “It sounds really stupid saying it out loud. I was stupid. I shouldn’t have gone; I didn’t even scare Akan off.” She let out a deep sigh. “I know it doesn’t begin to cover it, but I’m sorry.”
Elwin covered her hand with his, Tsarra’s skin looking even paler next to his rich, dark complexion. “That’s not a stupid idea, Tsarra. I wish you would have told me that before, but I forgive you completely, all right?”
Tsarra shook her head as she met his eyes. How could a single person possess so much mercy? She could have easily been killed, never showing up for their wedding day, leaving him alone without any knowledge of what had happened to her.
“But next time you go out alone to hunt a bloodthirsty beast, I’m totally coming with you,” Elwin added.
Tsarra rolled her eyes and managed to laugh even though she was doing everything in her power not to break down. “Sure. That would go well.”
“I’d have you to protect me.” He squeezed her hand. “You don’t realize how incredible you are, do you? People might not always acknowledge it, but our village wouldn’t even be here without you. You basically manage our entire meat trade—not to mention everything you’ve protected us from.”
“That’s not all me.”
“Well, my histories aren’t all me, either,” Elwin replied quickly. “There are all the people I interview, the other scholars before me who have written things down.” He raised his eyebrows. “I basically just put it all together to make it sound good.”
Tsarra sighed. “You have an answer for everything, don’t you?”
Elwin just grinned, leaving Tsarra’s mind to turn to practicalities again. “What about...the wedding?” She squeezed one of the rug’s fibres between her fingers until her fingertips turned red.
Elwin reached out and let his fingertips graze her jaw with the lightest of touches. Tsarra looked up to meet his gaze. His eyes were still alight with mirth, but there was a softness in them as well that made Tsarra’s insides melt. “Well,” Elwin said, “getting married with claw marks across your neck would definitely make people notice you. I think it’s amazing.”
Tsarra gasped, having nearly forgotten her close encounter with death. All at once, she was acutely aware of the throbbing wound. “How does it look, really?”
Elwin beamed. “Like I said: amazing. No one can question how great you are now.”
Tsarra traced the cuts lightly with her own fingertips. The wound stung a bit less than it had yesterday, but she knew it would take time to heal and certainly leave scars behind. “Maybe we can wait a couple weeks? And I promise I won’t go running off again.”
“You can run off all you want,” Elwin laughed. “You’re not a wolf on a chain. But it would help me sleep at night if you didn’t go hunting after murderous monsters alone.”
“Deal,” Tsarra said, and swallowed him in a tight embrace.
. . .
Author’s Note: This is a rewrite of an older short story first posted on Simily.
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About the Creator
Ever since I could first form words and hold a pen, I've been telling stories—from the sloppily scrawled tales about getting ice cream with my exotic pets to full-blown sci-fi and fantasy epics. Soli Deo gloria!