Eighteen-year-old Kera Teman didn't struggle against the ropes that held her hands together. They were the thickest she had ever seen. They were also tied in the most complex knot the young warrior had ever seen. She wondered if even the soldier that held a light grip on her arm now would be able to untie the quandary of fibers. I hope so, she thought inwardly as they neared the camp of his army.
Kera couldn't help but look around at the vivid colors of the tents they passed. Every color that she could name was represented. And many that she couldn't. The slightly hidden green the camp stood on was sheltered by a circle of high ridges and hidden by a hill. The sun beat down on the inhabitants of the camp, giving the reflection of its light off a yard of brightly colored hair now and then. Kera could barely keep her face in her usual stoic expression as she passed the various tents and people. She had often heard stories from her mother, who had been captured from the city of Jeba in the kingdom of the Keelites. She had heard of the beauty of that country. She had heard her mother tell her of the beautiful rivers and waterfalls that inhabited that land. She had heard of the beautiful garments and tents that they wove in the cities. And to think, I'm actually among them, just as a captive, she thought as she suddenly felt the soldier's grip on her arm completely disappear. He gave her a look that gave no room for argument. She would be there when he brought her to the proper authorities. She gave a slight nod to motion that she understood, and he disappeared into a tent.
Kera nervously fiddled with her hands behind her back and spent the spare time to glance around the camp. It was not the largest she had ever seen, but she knew enough of the Keelites to realize that their strength did not lie in numbers alone, but instead in their fighting abilities. No one from the kingdom of her father-the kingdom of Zura-had ever seen the Keelite army. The Zurates were known for their brute strength-and their mercilessness. Kera sighed as she remembered some of the lessons she had been forced to learn.
A ten-year-old Kera had just finished knocking her opponent to the ground and placing her blunt-ended spear against his neck, forcing him to yield. She turned slightly and frowned confusedly as she heard the children behind her snicker. She could not think of anything she had done wrong. She had watched the teacher's every move and tried to copy them. She had done that, hadn't she? Then she remembered as she felt a blow land along the back of her head. She hadn't struck his neck. As was the Zurate way, whenever they defeated someone in combat, they would strike a nerve in the neck. Hitting it too hard could cause paralysis or painful agony, but a light strike would only leave a searing pain that lasted for hours. Kera hated doing that, which was why she always tried to avoid fighting if she possibly could, but this had been a match for the king of Zura himself, and thus she had no choice in the matter.
"Now then Mistress Kera, tell us, why did you fail this round?" she heard the king say.
"My apologies, my lord, I forgot to strike the nerve in his neck. It was an honest mistake. I assure you that I did not intention such," Kera whispered as she lowered her head, since no child or woman was to look into the eyes of the king. She cringed slightly as she felt another blow land on the back of her head.
"So, you wish to toy with me, do you, young Kera? I know how your heart is. Weak. Weak from the Keelite blood that flows in your veins. Perhaps you have forgotten that according to our laws I owe your father no debt. Perhaps he was my brother, but you are not my daughter. Need I remind you that if you were, you would be in a house somewhere, away from the eyes of these honorable men? Need I remind you that the only reason that I do not betroth you away to some poor soul is because by my oath I swore to your father I would see you become a warrior? Need I remind you that you are merely a girl? The only reason that you see this arena is because of your father. And the only reason he ever wanted this was because your mother softened his heart before she died? Need I remind you?" he thundered.
"No, my lord, you need not. You need not," Kera said softly before she bowed and left the court with what little dignity she had left still intact.
Kera shook the thought from her head as she heard a noise behind her. Turning, she saw that it was because a woman was now staring at her. "What?" she asked slightly irritated before she realized her tone and softened it a bit. "Pardon me, milady. I mean, what is it I may help you with?"
The woman walked up to her and put her hands on her shoulders, scrutinizing her with an awed manner. "Kari?" the woman gasped lightly as she ran her hands over Kera's upper arms.
"No, milady. My name is not Kari. It is Kera. If it is Kari of Jeba you seek, I am her daughter, Kera of the Zura kingdom," Kera said in a low voice.
The woman moved back slightly. "Then the rumors were true?" she asked in a sad voice.
"I know nothing of any rumors. Please, what do you speak of?" Kera asked before she was cut off by the flaps of the tent the soldier had gone into opening. A man in his thirties emerged from the building. Kera took in his appearance as she remembered the description of the Keelite leader. Yes, he fit the description perfectly. Average build. Brown hair tied back in a ponytail. Blue eyes sparking with a mix of humor and knowledge.
"She speaks of the rumors that Kari was not killed but instead married to the prince of the Zurates. It appears that they were true. For a moment, I thought that Kari had returned to us. But no, it is Kera, is it not? You look just like your mother. I hope that you take pride in that," he before he drew a string in the knot around Kera's hands and it fell apart.
"I do. Please, I would appreciate knowing what you intend to do with me," she said, rubbing her wrists, the apprehension she was feeling of being tortured thankfully not showing on her face as she looked at her now rope-burned wrists.
"What exactly do you think we would do to you?" he asked, confusion spreading over his face.
"Well, let me think. Torture, murder, living my life as a slave in Keeli," she responded, listing some of the methods she had seen used over the years. She had thought herself ready for anything, but the look of horror on his face as she spoke she had never been trained to handle.
"Why would you expect such?" he breathed lowly.
"It is always that way when my people win a victory over someone."
"Perhaps in the Zurate army, but not among the Keelite," he sighed, still slightly stunned.
"My apologies for offending you," Kera said.
"You are Keelite as well as Zurate, no?" he asked without any warning.
"Yes, I am half of one and the other," Kera said
"Well, then, young Kera, I believe it is time you learned about our ways from this," he said, handing her a thick book. "Please, do not return it until you have read every page. And now, if you will excuse me, I must take my leave," he said as he turned around and walked away with his advisors.
"Of course," Kera said as her eyes traveled over the leather-bound book in her hands.