“Feeling any better?”
“A little. At least here there’s room for breathing.”
“Breathing is overrated. I hardly even bother with it these days.”
I laughed as Destron handed me a bowl of tea, the guesthouse humid with the smell of warm morning rains. They helped me there after I’d come to my senses. Mala’ha told me to take it easy and that there were plenty of priests around if I needed help.
“Poor Daj’yah, sometimes I forget how much of a girl you still are,” Mala’ha had clucked.
Everyone worried about me until it became quite obvious that I’d already more or less recovered. At least my projectile vomiting convinced everyone I’d be happier in the guesthouse, which was practically empty by that point.
Reconsecrating one of the greatest temples in the world is no small matter, even for a people like my own who aren’t much for conspicuous displays. I spent the next few days with people I’d not seen since childhood and strangers from other bands that I’d never met.
Ur’kyo screeched us awake every morning, the hateful old priest lining us up in the center of Bambala to practice the sacred words and motions, his voice sharp and wrenching like rusty goblin machinery.
“They picked you for this, Daj’yah?” he scoffed, taking me aside after the rehearsal.
“Not at my request.”
“You be careful then, the Loa do not like wizards and they like shirkers even less. I’d marry you to someone here, but no man here deserves that.”
“No man here does.”
My breath caught in my throat as soon as I’d spoke—what arrogance! Fortunately, Ur’kyo’s a thick one, and he took my comment as an agreement.
The ritual we practiced didn’t ask all that much of me; really, an apprentice could have done the job just as well. My responsibility was just to coax a frost spell halfway into our world so that shifting ice might show on my hands as I walked. During this, me and two other wizards would chant a prayer of thanks to Bethekk over and over again. I think Bethekk would find such a thing quite boring, but I am not a Loa.
Whatever the importance, Ur’kyo surely loved being the center of attention. The old days had it so that village holy men like Ur’kyo held the title of chaku, which translates more-or-less as amateur priest. Sure enough, a chaku did plenty of other things around the village besides holy work.
Everyone paid them mind, since they knew the Loa better than most, but no one thought them infallible or holy the way they did the Zandalari. The village elders could defy the chaku’s advice if they so chose. If the priest held a grudge, he’d bring it up to the Zandalari the next time they came; if they sided with him, the headman might lose his job.
Most times though, they settled the matter on their own. Everyone knew that the Zandalari priests had bigger things to worry about than village quarrels. Ur’kyo sure saw the fall of Zandalar as a sign that the Loa liked him, but the others didn’t seem to think much more of him. He said the Loa answered his prayers with victory, but maybe the Loa answered our prayers by giving us the connections we needed so as to get lots of guns.
Destron walked out with me the morning the procession set off to Zul’gurub. He looked at the display with a bit of longing; he’s always wanted to see Zul’gurub, but the undead cannot attend such a ceremony.
“Don’t you worry, I’ll be taking good pictures of the place,” I said, holding up Destron’s photo-recorder.
“Of that I have no doubt, but don’t trouble yourself too much over such things. I think this is a momentous event: for the Darkspear Tribe, for mages, perhaps for the Horde.”
“I’m thinking it’s just politics as usual.”
“Sometimes that’s how momentous things start.”
“That’d explain why such things are usually so disappointing.”
“Ha ha! At any rate, good luck.”
“I probably won’t be needing much—this is really simple—but thanks all the same.”
Thirty-seven of us marched east to the steaming hills. It was as much a chance to make new friends and be reacquainted with old ones as it was for religion. Some other races, it seems to me, put more of a barrier between themselves and their gods. Judging from what Destron tells me, and what the books say, a human behaves one way in a church, and another in a tavern.
With trolls, it’s much simpler. Some of this is because we usually live in small villages where you can’t really keep secrets. Everyone knows your sins already. The other is that the Loa aren’t so much different from us; mightier by far, but motivated by the same things. They understand this, so they do not expect us to be holy.
Maybe they expect too little, but I’m not sure I care for the human method. So much of it goes by promises—if you want the joy of others to be your own, you must do good unto others. But no one knows how such things are measured.
The Loa don’t bother with the pretense. They have power, and they must be obeyed, same as one obeys the elders or the priests. It is not fair, but they do not claim to be fair. They do not promise any better world.
I drifted to the back of the procession, not really wanting to hear Ur’kyo’s obnoxious laughter as he made jokes with other old men from the Tiger Stripes. I don’t know if it was fate that guided me to Mala’ha, or what the gnomes call the subconscious, but I soon ended up walking next to my cousin who strode near the kodo-pulled wagon carrying food and gifts for the ritual.
“Remember: no vomiting in the temple.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll eat sacred food before starting the ritual. That way if I get sick, Bethekk will still be honored.”
“Don’t joke about this!” she snapped.
“I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful. I just wasn’t sure what to say.”
“Say that you will be careful. You know, you could save yourself so much trouble if you just stayed quiet and did what we need you to do.”
“What about my magic? Aren’t wizards supposed to be valuable all of a sudden?”
“Yes, but even then you don’t do much. You hide out and avoid everyone. I’m surprised you even came here. You need to give everything you have, the same way the rest of us do.”
“What do you want me to give?”
“Yourself! You cannot still live apart from us, especially not now. Look how much we have done for you! We protected you as a child, when your crazy mother spent her days and nights crying to herself! We taught you how to gather food, to sow baskets, to plant cassava. When you went off to Orgrimmar, we let you. I heard that when the orcs wanted to kill you, all the trolls in the city rose up to help you!”
“Daj’yah, you have so much to offer! Why do you withhold? I don’t understand it.”
She furrowed her brow and massaged her forehead.
“I’m not trying to upset you, but you need to remember this.”
She quickened her pace and I knew better than to follow suit. My mouth hurt as it pulled down into a frown. I shook my head, not letting myself cry. I’d never gained from such silliness, and didn’t intend to give Mala’ha the satisfaction.
Besides, she knew she was right.
The tribe still protected my mother as she died slowly over the course of years, weeds sprouting up in her garden and animals eating up the cassava. She’d go out under scolding glares of neighbors, speaking anger to herself as she pulled out weeds, staggering from patch to patch without ever really clearing any of them.
They made no secret of hating her, a crazy woman who wouldn’t remarry and have more babies. By that point though, no man in the village would have married her, the gossip of the others cursing her as sure as any shaman could.
I don’t think they wanted to be cruel, at least not at first. Life is hard for a tribe, and they could not afford to have someone who didn’t contribute her fullest. Any other tribe would have let her die, but we’ve always been a bit softer than most.
If I’m going to be honest here, I can’t say I liked her much either. To be sure, I don’t really remember much about her in detail but there’s no joy in those memories. I only feel the coldness and the fear. I think though, that I grasped something about her that my kin did not; that she didn’t act that way to be stubborn or prideful, but simply because she’d lost something.
They say my mother was quite the catch when she was younger, beautiful and strong, more like Mala’ha than me. She didn’t turn me into someone clumsy, ugly, and weak.
By the time we reached the gates of Zul’gurub, our feet and calves plastered red from the muddy earth, I was not in much of a state to appreciate the architecture. Anyone could tell it was grand, its ancient yellow stones bent but not broken by the force of roots as wide as a grown man. Serpentine idols to Ula-tek slumbered under moss and vines on both sides of the road, ruby eyes crusted over with mud. You could just see the wing patterns scratched into the sides by the Soulflayer cultists decades ago.
“I wish you were the one seeing this,” I said in Common. I raised the recorder to my face, looking through the slot like Destron had instructed, and worked to get the gate in view. Pressing the button, the glass eye blinked and the contraption twitched in my hands.
Tremendous walls, so big you’d think a god must have put them in place, guided the path to a moss-lined stone arch. The arch is a Gurubashi invention, and archaeologists say that some of them predate anything the elves ever built. The Amani never had anything like it, instead using the sharp corbel arch for their great temples.
“Behold! The place of our past glory, and a promise of greater glories to come!” bellowed Ur’kyo, his skinny arms flung out like he wanted to hug the city.
All conversation stopped as the stone enveloped us, entire libraries inscribed on its surface, most of the letters too worn down to read. I recognized a few bold symbols visible through the curtain of vines. Our footsteps fell into the sound of marching Gurubashi from more than 10,000 years past as their ghosts returned to the site of their power.
I looked down at my feet, the tropical air as cold as ice, and I knew the others felt it too. The memories of thousands seep out of the stone and into your brain, you hear the rituals conducted by long-dead priests in ancient sanctuaries.
“Protect me in this place,” I whispered, not really sure which Loa I prayed to. Perhaps it was not to the gods but only to my mother, her lonely ghost at my heels.
We walked steady and solemn through the ancient place. I couldn’t bring myself to disrupt it by taking more pictures but my eyes gobbled up all the sights: the great walls that once encircled busy plazas where trolls sold rice and feathers, the slumbering palaces and galleries, the temples where the gods lived.
Zul’gurub wraps around a great lake, the waters feeding it tumbling down from the misty crags all around the city. The unholy temple to the Soulflayer (in the old days where Ula-Tek was worshipped) sits on a big island in the middle, his profane might no match for nature. Beasts now rule the place, praying to their unknowable gods as they hunt and hide in the flowering ferns.
The Temple of Bethekk is at the northern end of the city on the other side of the waters. They’d already sent people ahead to lash together some rafts for going across the lake, and we spent some hours loading everything and everyone on-board. Simple logistics is a good way to cut all the drama out of a scene and the weight of the ghosts lightened a bit as we worked.
Feeling braver, I took a few more snapshots and smiled as I imagined Destron stumbling about the place in a state of architectural agape. I’ve never seen him get more excited than when he describes the great cities he’s seen.
“If the Darkspear end up ruling this place, I’ll make sure you get a chance to visit,” I whispered.
We reached the northern section at nighttime, the sharp lines of the temple black against the moon. Rituals to Bethekk are to be conducted at dusk, so we had no choice but to wait until the next day. Ur’kyo warned us not to stray far, since wicked things still dwell in the forgotten courts.
We spent this time doing extra preparations, reciting the words and practicing the steps. I’d have liked to try it while wearing the cumbersome ritual garments but they were only to be worn once. Ur’kyo made a big fuss about throwing them away once we were done, how doing that showed our power.
“No longer do we have to cling to every holy scrap we find. Now, we have the power, as did the Zandalari,” he claimed. He said that about a hundred different times throughout the day, always making sure everyone heard him.
It seems to me that since the Loa turned against the Zandalari, maybe we shouldn’t be trying so hard to imitate them. Perhaps better to do the opposite of what the Zandalari did (live on a mainland instead of an island, invite lots of foreigners to our holy places, visit the other tribes instead of making them visit us, and survive the Cataclysm).
Then again, who’s to say what the Loa like or don’t like?
I sat down with Mala’ha at noon, neither of us speaking as she tied my unruly hair into fine braided lengths. It’s amazing to feel her twist around the strands like it was nothing. Every troll woman is supposed to know such things and she’s a master even by those standards.
She used to do this for me when we were kids and even a few times as an adult. I’ll never be a beauty but I’m at least presentable in her hands, someone who might look like a real troll if you’re drunk and not paying attention.
I’m not sure I could forgive her if she somehow did make me beautiful.
I’m sure Mala’ha was wondering if I’d embarrass her like I’d done so many times in the past, not bothering to use her efforts and shrinking back into the shadows. Still, she did her best, smearing the skin around my eyes with soot and reminding me to show off my tusks (sorry specimens that they are).
“You walk in the grace of a goddess tonight, so act the part,” she said.
Drums started up when the sun began staining the sky. Already dressed in my temple rainments, a crazy mosaic of burlap cloth and precious jewels, I donned the golden jaguar mask, its smooth surface almost warm against my skin. The sheer weight of the thing nearly threw me off balance and I took a few practice steps, getting used to the swaying vise around my head. The mask was not even that big, but still cumbersome; gold was not made to be worn!
Archaeologists say the Temple of Bethekk is one of the newer structures in Zul’gurub. Always great in our eyes, my people probably started worshipping her more keenly after elven magic wreaked havoc on our armies. It’s a bit smaller than most great Gurubashi temples, a sign of the empire’s weakness in those days.
Bethekk sat in carved jade at the very front of our procession, her sharp smile hungry and expectant. A dozen of the strongest men took positions on the reinforced wooden platform supporting her. Some goblin engineer said it’d be the best way to get the idol to the sanctuary at the top, though I still wasn’t so sure. The idol wasn’t the biggest I’d seen—we’d had to get it ready in something of a hurry—and was just a bit taller than a troll, though much wider. They’d lashed it onto the litter with ropes that I hoped were secure.
Women gathered at the back, carrying bowls of fruit, incense, and other offerings. My cousin Tanda watched over the big prize, an anxious tapir on a rope leash. The creature’s beady eyes looked up to the obsidian knife in Tanda’s other hand and the skull-pattern painted on her face, maybe knowing what was to come.
I stepped into formation in the middle, near Ur’kyo. The old priest dressed as a woman so as to appeal to the goddess. He wore far more gold than me, to the point I wondered how the old man could even stand. We three wizards assembled into a sort of triangle behind him.
Players slammed their drums, the beats loud enough wake the stones. Ur’kyo raised his hands and heavy head, chanting Old Zandali in his thick voice, the presence of the Loa jolting through us. We all felt it as we followed. I didn’t think as I spoke, just putting one word in front of the other as I’d been trained.
“Glory to you, and the power to us, our enemies in dust and blood,” moaned Ur’kyo.
At that I called on the magic, the air cooling around my finger tips to make a thin sheen of frost. I kept the connection unsteady so the frost shuddered and twitched, its presence as visible as the flames engulfing Man’ko’s hands and the clean blue light on Vad’nag’s.
The mask tilted forward just a bit, the eye slits suddenly below my actual eyes. Wanting to curse but not daring I kept walking forward, lifting my head up in hopes the damned thing would slide back into place. No such luck. I couldn’t move it with my hands without disrupting the ritual.
Surely goddess, you will not mind? You wouldn’t want your servant to trip over her own feet while honoring you.
Somehow I didn’t think Ur’kyo would acknowlede any divine forgivness on her part. I kept going forward, casting my eyes downward to see Ur’kyo’s feet treading the flagstones. The drumbeats annoyed their way back into my conscious mind, and I suddenly realized that, distrated by the mask as I was, I’d fallen out of beat.
Easy, I told myself, still chanting the holy words.
I tried to match my pace to Ur’kyo’s, not an easy thing to do since he kept slipping out of my vision. Thinking he’d left me behind I started moving more quickly. Too fast, I realized, when my toes sunk into someone’s flesh followed by an annoyed grunt.
Raising my head as far as I could, I saw Ur’kyo standing in place, his tongue jumping back into the chant even though I’d run into him.
This is silly, I thought, and raised my arm, just managing to shove the mask into place. At last I saw why we’d stopped. One of the porters had stumbled, his fellows just keeping the litter steady as he got back to his feet, apologizing. Ur’kyo’s voice strained, the sun inching closer to the horizon.
Not sure what else to do, I kept up my part of the ritual, the inside of the mask stinking of my sweat. The porters soon started only to slow down again when they reached the first of the steps. It should not be easy to reach a god, or so the thinking went, and the ancient masons made each temple step as steep as possible.
I glanced to the west, reassured that we still had plenty of time. The porters began struggling up and we followed. Behind us, the women carrying the offerings cried out shrill and warbling wails, the tones a match for the pipes. A few of the ancient codices talked of specially trained women who’d “sing in the voice of eternity”, and Ur’kyo had done his best to replicate that.
I climbed up the first step, the headdress pressing onto my scalp. Sweat dripped from my chin and onto my neck. Maybe undeath isn’t such a bad idea, I thought, the holy words getting thick on my tongue. Just as the weight seemed to press into my brain, the pounding drums and piercing cries rattled my ears.
Don’t fall down, don’t throw up.
This was no time to make a fool of the tribe. I just had to keep at it and say the words. Right then the mask slipped again and my toes slammed straight into the next step. My chant jumped up an octave for a moment and my face scrunched up as pain boiled in my big toe. Half-blind, I raised my foot and found what felt like the top of the next step and pulled myself up.
I again raised my arms a bit to put the mask back into place, but I didn’t aim right that time and instead pushed it to the side so I saw everything askew. I decided I’d try again farther up the stairs, not wanting to make it obvious what I was doing.
With all the distractions I again lost track of the beat. Putting aside the pain in my toe and the nasal cries in my ears, I tried to concentrate on the drumbeats. The pain in my toe won the fight without much trouble and I limped to keep pace with everyone around me.
The shout came from further up the stairs, the kind that’s panicky enough to grab anyone’s attention. Sound reached me before sight, something soft and heavy hitting the stone steps with a whooshing grunt, joined by more frightened yells.
I caught sight of right-hand porters buckling and the great jade idol tumbling backwards off the platform, hundreds of pounds worth of stone ready to crush the entire column. I almost wonder if Bethekk slowed time as her idol fell towards us like some jade boulder, a sign of her might that she could wipe out her worshippers if she wanted.
Ur’kyo backtracked in terror only to misstep and fall, the women in back shrieking as they scrambled out of the way. The idol hit the stairs with a crack louder than thunder, a crash so deep you heard it with your bones. Jade fragments split and spun across the stairs as it began to roll.
I didn’t even think, the icy magic in my hands almost singing to me with all its possibility. The formulae for the ice block spell jumped into my head and I spun it into reality, changing the rules as I went.
The force left my hands in an instant. A wave of solid ice flowed up below and around the idol, its translucent mass stopping the god at mid-crest. For just a second I feared the ice block would crack under the weight and force, but it held the idol in place.
“Get out of the way!” I yelled, knowing the spell only lasted about ten seconds.
I threw off the mask and hurried down the steps to where Ur’kyo lay bleeding from the scalp. Vad’nag, one of the other mages, was already trying to pull him out of danger. Working together, we got him to the side and to safety, the gift-bearers already on the lower tier of the pyramid and well away from harm.
We moved to the sides just as the ice vanished from the world. Its earlier momentum gone, the idol took a bit longer to pick up speed, finally smashing into the plaza hard enough to rattle the entire temple.
The gods must not be kept waiting, but they know that the world is an unfair place. Still dizzy from his fall, Ur’kyo decided that Bethekk would be satisfied with a simpler ritual the next evening, something on a Darkspear scale instead of a Zandalari one.
All of us gathered in the musty temple sanctuary, we three wizards with magic dancing in our hands as Ur’kyo (the poor fellow on crutches) performed the rites. Bearers placed burning incense on the floor and the tapir’s blood and innards draped the altar. The ceremony was quick, but I am sure she appreciated the gifts.
When it finished we went back to the plaza, all of us with the satisfaction that comes from finally achieving a difficult task. Ur’kyo insisted on having me be the one to help him down the stairs and I really didn’t have much choice but to comply. The old man saw me as a good luck charm instead of someone who just knew when to take action.
“It’s clear to anyone that Holy Bethekk favors you, Daj’yah,” he said, when we’d reached the plaza.
If she favored me, wouldn’t she have kept the idol from falling in the first place? Or maybe it was just that pesky thing known as gravity taking charge.
I didn’t say anything though, just nodding.
“I will take you back to the Valley of Spirits. There is much to discuss. Too late for you to be a priest, I think, but someone like you could be of much use.”
“I’m honored. But it was Vad’nag who first came to save you—“
“Brave, yes, but he’d not have gotten me out of the way in time. He will be good for helping our warriors.”
“Thank you, holy one, but I’m not sure what I can do there.” All at once I started feeling this tightness in my chest. He wanted me back in Orgrimmar? The damned city is a steel cage, a hellhole where warriors boast and walk on the backs of everyone else. Hadn’t I spent enough time there? I worked hard to keep the anger out of my voice; I’d done something good and he’d pull me out of Booty Bay and back to a place that I hate.
“There is much. You came here to help the tribe, and I am telling you how. I will talk to Master Dangi, of course, but he is a wise man and you know he will agree with me. This is a good moment for everyone.”
I couldn’t even think of a response. There had to be some way out, but Master Dangi would never take my word over Ur’kyo’s. The hateful old man—he always used to mock my mother’s ghost, laughing at her hunger and saying I’d end up the same way. He’d ask to my face if I didn’t have some human blood, same way the pupils in Darkbriar made jokes about it when they thought I couldn’t hear.
Ur’kyo tottered off to be closer to the campfire. I noticed Mala’ha standing nearby. We looked at each other for a moment, trying to read each other in the shadows. With that, I did what I always did in such situations; went off to the edge of the campsite and sat in the dark.
Going back to Bambala felt like forever but didn’t really take that long. I kept quiet, though most everyone tried to pull me aside to tell me what a grand mage I was. Turns out I don’t really like compliments much more than I like insults. All the damned chatter started to grate on my ears and my brain, like a goblin machine with a loose gear that just won’t stop making awful sounds. And to think I’d soon be facing more of it!
And yet, like Mala’ha had told me, I owed the tribe. Being born a Darkspear is like signing a contract in Booty Bay; you have to fulfill it. Maybe if I just let go and accept, it wouldn’t seem so bad.
Ur’kyo moved more quickly than I thought. He headed up to the elder’s hut the moment we returned, proclaiming “the heroism of this chosen of Bethekk” to everyone. I could only cringe, knowing they’d soon crowd around me again. Seeing him approach Master Dangi, I did the only thing I could do, and ran up to overhear, to maybe say something that would change Dangi’s mind.
“… Daj’yah is a great mage. I was wrong about her, I will admit. I want to take her back to the Echo Isles. There is much she can do for us,” he said.
“You seem very excited about this, Holy One,” said Master Dangi. The elder sat on a wooden stool, his back leaning against the wall, a clay cup filled with coffee in his hand. “Here, don’t be in such a hurry. I’ve got some very fine rum for you to enjoy.”
“Certainly, certainly. I am excited because we have good reason to be. The Loa demonstrated that they watch over us. Daj’yah turned a disaster into a moment of heroism! Bethekk granted her favor to show us all what she could be capable of. This is just as you were saying, the mages are an important part of our tribe.”
“Yes,” said Master Dangi, pouring some of the Sharkport Rum into a cup and handing it over to Ur’kyo. “Daj’yah has no husband or living parents, so I certainly shall not refuse.”
Tears built up in my eyes, but I didn’t let them flow. I’d not be some cringing wretch in their presence. Destron waved to me from the guesthouse, and I fluttered my right hand in response, my heart about to burst.
“Good. The Bone-carvers have always been an important part of the tribe—“
“You don’t need to flatter me, Holy One. We are clever, but few in number. Such has always been our way.”
“Daj’yah, this seems like a good opportunity for you. Do you want to add anything?” asked Master Dangi.
I tried to think of what to say, my mouth dry. I wished I’d never left Booty Bay, never left my cramped office in the Old Port Authority where people gave me space, never left my hothouse room in the Portview Arms that I shared with an actual friend.
“Holy One, Master Dangi, a word please?”
It was Mala’ha, who’d just entered the hut. Ur’kyo’s little eyes flickered with something much like lust at the sight of her.
“Certainly, Mala’ha. What is it?” asked Master Dangi.
“I’ve known Daj’yah all my life. She’s a very keen one, to be sure. What she did back at Zul’gurub was wonderful, but I have seen such magic before. I am a huntress, and many of the tribe’s enemies have fallen at my spears. Other wizards—some Darkspear, some not—have used such spells in similar ways.”
“No one doubts that,” said Master Dangi.
“So she is not unique—“
“You should not speak ill of your cousin!” scolded Ur’kyo.
“Not at all! I do nothing of the sort! Daj’yah, am I not right?”
“You are. It’s been done before. All I did was modify a spell very slightly. It’s not something all mages are able to do, but there are plenty of others. I don’t even really have that much experience in actual spellcasting, and have even less at fighting.”
“You see? Now that would still be fine, but there is more she could do for the tribe. The truth is, she’s never really been much of a Darkspear. Holy One, you often reminded her of the fact.”
“I was not entirely wrong, but she has worth.”
“Her real worth isn’t in her magic. Master Dangi, you often said we need more knowledge from the outside world. Daj’yah works for the Steamwheedle Cartel. She’s in the perfect place to get more knowledge. Spellbooks for the wizards, engineering manuals for our tinkerers, and all that.
“All she has to do is work in Booty Bay. She doesn’t get along too well with trolls, but maybe she’d be better with goblins.”
“This is silly, Mala’ha. You are a woman, do not think to—“
“Mala’ha is a great huntress who’s killed more Bloodscalps than you, Holy One,” reminded Master Dangi.
“Need I remind you that I am a servant of the Loa? Do not bring their wrath down upon your head!”
“The Zandalari were the first servants of the Loa, and we know what happened to them. Somehow I don’t think the gods would be impressed if we started acting like the Zandalari.
“I think I like your idea, Mala’ha. Daj’yah, you will return to Booty Bay. Mej and some others will keep in touch with you so that you can keep them informed as to what is happening there. Some things you can just give to us—like books to the Darkbriar Lodge. Also, you must keep aware of trade opportunities. Find out what merchants want, and see if we can make a bargain.”
“Of course,” I said, not quite believing what had just transpired. Mala’ha flashed me a knowing smile.
Mala’ha didn’t stay long, hurrying away to the hut she shared with her husband. I didn’t see her until dinner that night, she looking quite satisfied with herself.
“You owe me for this, Daj’yah.”
“I suppose so. Thank you. I know I’m not always an easy person—“
“You don’t need to tell me. Don’t think I’m doing this to let you get away from everything. But I thought back on things when we were in Zul’gurub. I can see why it’s hard for you. At any rate, no one should have to spend more time with Ur’kyo,” she sniffed.
“The Loa are very gracious to put up with him.”
“I’m not so sure; maybe that incident at the temple was Bethekk telling him to stop.”
My eyes popped open in shock to hear Mala’ha make such a blasphemous joke, and I broke down laughing a moment later.
“Your tongue’s getting awful sharp,” I said, between laughs.
“All the time I spent with you. Remember though: you do need to take these tasks in Booty Bay seriously. You are always a Darkspear.”
“I know. I will.”
“And at least try to find a husband. It’s your responsibility to have a child.”
A sort of heaviness settled over my heart. I don’t know how to live with people, much less children.
“I promise I’ll try.”
In silence we watched the hunters—grown lazy from so much time in Bambala—eat their food and boast of past deeds. I remembered all those hot youthful days spent in Mala’ha’s shadow, wondering if I’d just forgotten the good times with her, or if they’d truly never existed.