When Rishi felt her fall, horror swept through him. It soon gave way to relief when he caught her to him and saw that her eyelids were closed. She’d only fainted, which was infinitely better than the sightless gaze of the Eloko’s everlasting sleep.
He couldn’t let her rest, not quite yet. They were still within the Eloko’s territory and it might decide to try again. He quickly took a small, bird-shaped gourd of Eucalyptus oil and a scrap of clothing from the pouch that dangled from his tunic’s belt. Dropping a bit of the oil onto the cloth, he placed it under her nose. Her breathing hitched and she started awake suddenly, peering up at his crouched form for a second time that night.
Rishi smiled gently. “There’s no time to nap just yet, Ke Ke.” He hadn’t meant for the endearment to slip and forced himself to keep his voice level, “We need to move past the Crossroads to leave its territory,” he finished unnecessarily for he knew she knew. Every man, woman and child who grew up in and around these parts knew of the Eloko and the stone sculptures that marked the borders of its territory. They were told of in stories, songs and plays. They were one of the first lessons every child learned.
Past five warriors, backs together
Here it comes, red eyes glowing
She took the hand he offered and rose to her feet.
“Sorry,” she whispered.
“That was your first sighting.” He grinned. “Fainting is expected.”
“For a woman?” she asked.
There was an edge to her voice that he didn’t quite understand. For one thing, he was the injured party not her, but this wasn’t the time or the place, so he continued lightly.
“Women, yes. Wives who insist on accompanying their husbands for a hunt, but even newly initiated warriors,” he said while cursing himself for bringing up the term ‘wife’ especially when he saw her flinch. “That’s why only the most experienced warriors and hunters venture this deep into the forest alone.” So why did you?
The question hung between them, unasked and unanswered. It couldn’t be helped. Any attempt at conversation would bring them back to this. The inevitable questions and the baring of the soul; the inevitable break in their relationship, whatever it was now.