This story is by Dailey M. Lengerich and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Inkeri opened her eyes slowly and looked around her. She assessed her situation with growing dread. She wasn’t alone. Wicked-looking, men stood everywhere. They looked powerful in their sleeveless tunics. Their muscles rippled with every move. She felt their stares, and it nauseated her.
Young, beautiful, and bound; she was helpless and in their power. But she could make them regret this. The ropes restrained the writhing beast she could become. Savage. Ruthless. Desperate.
She figured no one would come after her. Did they even know she was gone?
Despair welled up, and she choked it back. This was her biggest fear: failure. She leaned back, grimacing when her weight tensed the sore muscles in her arms. She closed her eyes.
The memories came slowly. She had been stalking the enemy warriors with her fellow warriors. These men, usually their neighbors, had come in the night and stolen their stores.
* * *
Inkeri rose from the water, her wet robe clinging to her. The sun’s first rays were penetrating the morning fog. She scrambled over the slippery boulders and onto the bank. Drying quickly, she swept a brush through her hair and dashed home. She dressed quickly before stepping outside.
“It’s gone! It’s gone!” She heard people crying.
Inkeri found Destin. “What’s gone?” She asked.
“All our stores. Stolen.”
He strode for the arena where the warriors were gathering. She ran after him.
In the arena, she waited with the men. It was unusual for a woman to be a warrior, but she belonged here.
Perhaps that was pride, maybe some presumption; but this was a safe place to vent. She could take out her anger without dishonoring herself. Besides, this training made her feel unique from every other girl in the village. Their leader rode to the front.
The chase was on.
She moved with the warriors. They ran through the woods following a well-marked trail. The thieves hadn’t covered it at all.
Suddenly, everyone stopped. The thieves were just ahead.
The fighting began thick and fast. Inkeri marked her target and threw him. He rose enraged. She saw his fist swinging towards her and ducked. Swoosh! He missed. He tried again. She kicked him.
Someone grabbed her from behind and pulled her away.
“Get off of me!” She screamed angrily.
Slowly, as in a trance, she felt herself being lifted, and then she was flying through the air. Wham! Darkness washed over her when she hit the ground.
* * *
Destin looked up at the night sky. The decision was difficult. His whole life was in front of him. He loved Inkeri and he wanted to protect her. But, could he give it up… for her?
The ship he had been following, stopped. He decided it was now or never if he was going to save her.
He sliced noiselessly through the water swimming towards the ship. A rope dangled over the side, he climbed it carefully. Soon he stood dripping wet on the deck. The darkness hid him. Destin looked around cautiously. There she was!
He crept up to the pole. A slight noise would alert them to his presence.
He knelt behind her and gently grasped her wrists. Her pulse quickened under his touch. Withdrawing his knife, he began to cut the ropes.
* * *
Inkeri stretched to ease the pounding in her head. The movement disturbed her long, blonde hair, tickling her back where her shirt was torn.
One of the men approached her. She dropped her eyes to his feet and watched him approach with dread.
“Stay calm.” She thought.
He stopped inches from her. She felt his eyes staring at her. Inkeri scowled as he bent down on one knee and grabbed a lock of her hair. She drew her knees tighter to her chest and shoved herself further away. Slowly he twisted her hair around his finger. He pinched her cheek. Inkeri felt herself blushing. The warrior sneered.
Suddenly, warm fingers gripped her wrists from behind. She froze.
The cold edge of a knife grazed her skin lightly as the ropes were cut. She had been released. The warm fingers slid down and opened her fist. A small object was pressed into her palm. She closed her fingers around it tightly.
She kept her eyes locked on the warrior who was inches from her. She shuddered. The struggle to be still was intense. He drew closer. She turned her head slightly and closed her eyes.
“Eeeiiiyaaa!” Inkeri screamed, startling everyone. Wham! She kicked him and leaped up. Without hesitation, she ran and dove into the river. The water enveloped her and she disappeared into the night.
Destin watched Inkeri run across the deck before the darkness swallowed her. He jumped up and tried to take off after her, but the warriors attacked him. He fought back. He was near the edge, near freedom, when he was sabotaged.
“Have a death wish?” A warrior asked, twisting Destin’s arms behind his back and tying them securely.
“No.” His jaw was set in determination. Their leader, Orm, slapped him.
“Liar.” The metallic zing of blood on his tongue made him spit.
Orm ran to the edge where Inkeri had disappeared and swore.
Destin sighed. It was a death wish to do this, but he was relieved she was free. He hoped it hadn’t been in vain.
The warriors took up oars and began rowing again. As they rowed farther and farther away, he felt his dreams drowning in the river.
* * *
Inkeri swam mechanically. Exhaustedly. Finally, her feet felt sand and she collapsed on the bank panting.
When she opened her eyes again, it was morning. Birds chirped; the sun shone. She unfurled her fingers which were still clasped around the object in her hand. It was the necklace Destin had given her months ago. In astonishment, she felt her neck frantically. Indeed, it was gone. Now she knew it had been Destin, and he had found her necklace.
Struggling to her feet, she limped to the river’s edge and washed. The long journey home took hours. Inkeri was just about to sit and rest when an opening in the trees revealed the village. She ran forward eagerly, smiling as she walked down the familiar street. But something was different. Not the street, but herself. She realized Destin, her hero, was gone- and she was devastated. Everything was different now.
Her mind wandered back to the night when he had told her about love. Now she understood what he meant.
Destin reached for her hand. “Please, let me explain.”
She paused, but this time she didn’t pull away when he took her hand. He wrapped his arm around her.
“I know. You’ve been betrayed. Now you’re scared to trust anyone. But please, trust me to show you, true love.” He begged.
Inkeri leaned on him. He held her tighter as little tears slipped down her cheeks.
“What is it?” She asked.
“Love is being there for one another when we’re sad, or happy. Just being there to laugh with, talk to, or, have a shoulder to cry on.” He directed his eyes upwards. The moon seemed to smile at them. “It is loving the other person more than yourself. When you love someone like that, you’ll do anything for them.”
He was right. Tears welled up as she remembered.
A year passed slowly. Day after day, anger and longing built up in her. The arena, as always, was her haven.
Thwack! Her fist smacked into the bicep of her opponent.
“You hit harder when you’re mad.” He stated. “What’s wrong?” He wrapped his arm around her waist and tried to throw her. She resisted.
“I don’t want to talk now.” She said.
“Calm down, then.” Inkeri twisted away and whirled around to face him from the opposite direction. They stared at each other for a few seconds.
She looked beyond him and scanned the crowd. A young man, disheveled and thin, stood out from the rest. And he was smiling at her.
“Who’s that?” Her opponent asked. Inkeri ignored him because she was so concentrated on the stranger. She gasped.
“Destin?!” She whispered. She walked towards him. Silence filled the arena.
“Inkeri,” Destin trembled.
“It’s you!” She cried running to him. She caught him just as he collapsed into her arms. She knelt, supporting his weight while tears fell onto his shoulders. The onlookers backed away. Everything was still.
Slowly Destin opened his eyes and looked at her face. She stared into his eyes. Everything he had been through for her shone through. All the pain and tears. Then, another light began to overpower them and she saw the love he still felt for her. It shone brighter until it filled his whole face.
“You were worth it.” He said softly.
“Destin, my hero, thank you.” She leaned down to kiss his cheek. “I love you.” A whisper passed between them.
His smile widened over his face before he closed his eyes and sighed. Everything would be alright.