a precarious journey | [diana luciano tirado]


Diana Luciano Tirado

Crammed under a hollow bench of the village’s drapery, the screams of the tribe’s women became distant echoes of terror. The sickening smell of burning skin slipped in through the gaps of the tinted wood, and withholding the urge to retch soon became a near impossible feat. I covered my baby’s nose with my shirt, and prayed that she didn’t wake.

About a year ago, Northern soldiers had marched into Bartoliem with orders of settling into the Gyraeic tribes and offering their swords for protection against the persecution of neighboring kingdoms. Apparently, the Crown Prince’s health was quickly declining, and the King had made a deal with the Gyrian Head to offer his forces in exchange for the services of a few of his healers. Tenuous peace had been achieved for the months to follow, the threat against the tribes substantially lessening. That is, until two weeks ago, when the prince passed away, and the king decreed the extermination of all beings whose veins were tainted with magic, children not exempt.

Santa Katerina,
protect us and guide us on this dark day.
Please, give my child and I a chance.
Te lo ruego.

The sound of curtains being slid aside rattled through the shop, and I willed my shaking hands into stillness. A pair of boots scraped into the drapery, shifting to what I guessed was browsing the area. The instant crash of crystals against the floor made me flinch slightly, and once again I willed my body to freeze. My heart pounded with such tonicity that I was certain the soldier would find us by its boisterous beating alone. A few more things clattered to the floor, and finally the boots began to recede. I shut my eyes and waited for the horrid half silence that haunted me before, wished for it, but right then the baby sneezed.

A dreadful five seconds passed, then the bench was kicked aside, and a sturdy hand yanked me up by my curls. 

“Almost missed you, darling.” He smiled, crooked teeth tinged with yellow broadening as he took me in. I tried to pull away, but his grip was strong. “Aren’t you a pretty thing?”

“Please… Please, I’m not a –

“Shh, shh, sh. We’ll get to that in a moment. We have some time until the others get here.”

He gripped my waist and pressed closer, not even caring about the child slung across my chest. I thrashed, and in a moment of sheer luck managed to wedge my knee up between his thighs. He screamed and loosened his grip for the briefest second, only to grab me by the throat and squeeze.

“You filthy pagan!” He forced my jaw open with his fingers, and as he was about to close down on my mouth, a cracking sound emitted from his body. I watched as his wind pipe splintered in two, and felt the bones of his fingers break above my throat. He slumped to the floor.

Coughing, I stared in terror at the shriveled body below me, then up at the Gyrian woman who had caused it.


“You are Kye?” she asked in thickly accented Varyian, the common tongue. She had thick, undulating black hair and the keenest pair of gray eyes. She wore a short sleeved purple shirt and a long skirt layered with different colored fabrics, a kanah similar to the one I had wrapped around my baby falling from her shoulder to her waist. I nodded. “Then come.”

She crossed to the back of the tent, then turned when she saw I wasn’t following. “If you want to be raped and have your child slaughtered, you are welcomed to stay. If not, follow, now. Matheo is waiting.”

Relief flooded through my body at the name. “You know Matheo? Oh thank heavens –

“Save your thanks for when we are safe, girl. Now move.”

We exited the shop from the back, and my hand flew to my mouth as the smell of burnt flesh hit me with all its might. The howls of terror rose to deafening heights, tribespeople of all ages clamoring for their lives around us. We clung to the shadows as the Gyrian led us toward the woods and made us crouch behind a large tent. From here, we could see a group of four soldiers facing who I’m guessing was their commander. Matheo was amongst them.

“Keep searching,” said the gray haired commander. “I’m sure there are still rats cowering in some filthy corner of this place. Find them.”

“Yes, sir,” they answered in unison, then broke and headed separate ways. Matheo passed the tent in which we were huddled behind. I was about to call his name when the Gyrian squeezed my arm. I looked at her, but her eyes were trained on the commander, who was intently wiping dried blood from his sword. Only when he sheathed it and went the opposite way did she rise and led us to where Matheo had headed.

When we reached him, I tried once more to call his name and reach his side, but she grabbed my arm once more and pinned me with a warning gaze. We trailed him in silence for a few minutes.

“Get in front of me,” he murmured without looking back at us. As we did, an advancing scrape of boots sounded from behind us. “Shit. Kye, give Marika the baby.”

“What? No!”

“Now, Kye.” The urgency in his tone made me unsling the child from my chest and hand her to the Gyrian.

“Please, be careful –

“Stay quiet and follow my lead.” Matheo whispered. Then he roughly grabbed the back of our necks and pushed us forward.

“Going somewhere, Hendriks?” said a baritone voice from behind.

Matheo whirled us to face a pale skinned, smirking soldier.

“Found these two huddled behind a tent. They’re not so hard on the eyes, so I’m going to enjoy them before handing them over to the Lieutenant.”

“Really?” The soldier stepped forward. There was an easy grace to his stance, and I knew he hadn’t come to aid us.

“Not exactly your type, soldier.”

“Just because I don’t share my conquests with the rest does not mean I don’t have any.”

The soldier laughed. “I’d hardly call Gyrian trash a conquest. Though…” His eyes roamed up and down my frame, “Maybe using their bodies for a while wouldn’t be so bad.” He took another step forward, and Matheo switched to grab our wrists, yanking us behind him.

“I found them first, Peters. Get your own scum.”

He laughed again. “I’m sure they won’t mind if we share.”

He took another step, focused on my eyes, and Matheo released my wrist to pull out his sword and point it at him. Peters stopped and raised both of his hands, a low laugh wringing from his throat. “Greedy, are we?”

In that moment, another pair of boots approached, and the commander of Matheo’s platoon soon reached us. He took the scene in front of him. “What’s going on here?”

“Private Hendriks was going to rape these two rats, and apparently he’s not fond of sharing his toys.”

The commander regarded Matheo. “Hendriks?”

“Sir, I found them first. Peters is just too lazy and arrogant to find his own enjoyment.”

“Won’t argue with that. But does that warrant a death threat, Private?

“He has a big mouth.”

“Hmm.” The commander stepped forward and studied the Gyrian woman, whose eyes only exuded hate and disgust. Peters kept smiling. “And would you deny your commander such a treat as well?”

Matheo shifted. “Sir… I wouldn’t want you to sully your hands with such scum. I can find you more suitable women if you like –

“Matheo, lower your sword.” Matheo didn’t, and the commander narrowed his eyes. “That’s an order.”

Another soldier reached us, and our odds started to look pretty bleak.

“Everything alright, sir?”

He ignored him, unwavering eyes trained on Matheo. “Hendriks?”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sir.”

The commander simply raised his chin and stepped back. “I see. It’s a shame you can’t.” Then he unsheathed his sword and pointed it at him, the other soldiers following.


Marika took the opportunity to hand me a small blade, which I almost let clatter to the floor. “Defend yourself.” Then she tightened her left arm on the baby, and slightly curled the fingers of her right hand, bracing for the fight. The soldiers circled us, Peters stopping before me, that smirk still plastered on his face. I raised my pathetically small blade, unable to hide the trembling of my hands, and he grinned.


“I’ll repeat it one last time, Matheo. Lower your sword, hand the women over, or you’ll be slain for treachery.”





Five tense seconds passed, and then Matheo twisted over to where Peters stood in front of me and hit him with the butt of his sword, knocking him down. It happened so fast, neither of them had time to react until Peters was down, and then all hell broke loose. The commander lunged at me, taking advantage of Matheo’s distance, but Matheo was too fast. Their swords met inches from my face, making me scuttle back until I tripped and fell. I saw the other soldier pounce on Marika, and she raised her hand toward his throat, beginning to twist it in the air, but this soldier knew a witch’s tricks. He grabbed her hand and squeezed until she screamed, then he twisted her arm up to her back. She screeched in pain, but her grip on my child didn’t waver. She started to plead with the man, and as he leaned closer to whisper something in her ear, she thrust her head back with such force that a crunching sound emitted from his nose. The soldier released her and swayed back, but managed to remain on his feet. Beside them, Matheo and the commander were sparring with unchecked force, slashing and swinging at each other like dexterous beasts. I was so focused on their movements that I didn’t notice the figure crawling toward me. Only when a bleeding Peters grabbed my ankle did I reach for the blade that had slipped from my hand, but he pulled me below him before I could grab it. He forced my legs open and crawled on top of me, pinning both of my hands in one of his above my head as I thrashed and tried to wedge my knee between his thighs, to no avail. He smiled and laughed between his teeth.



“Think you could escape me, sweetheart?” His free hand started to lift up my skirt, and then he was hoisted up and flung to the ground at my feet. A sword dug rawly into his chest, and then Matheo’s eyes were scanning my frame.


“Are you okay?” He asked. I nodded, my heart and breathing too frantic to let me respond. He removed his sword from Peters chest, wiped it once on his uniform, and put it back in its sheath. He leaned forward to pull me up, and then I saw the top of a gray tinged head looming behind him. I screamed.


“Matheo!”


The commander swung his sword onto Matheo’s open side, managing a deep gash and bringing him to his knees.


“Adflicto!” A splintering sound reverberated through the expanse, then the twisted body of the commander pummeled to the floor. A panting Marika and still dozing baby stood behind him. She turned to me. “What in Raho’s hells do you give this child?”


The soldier that had lunged at her was now lying at her feet, his body bent at weird angles. She had a gash on her right arm, but was otherwise unharmed. Matheo was beginning to rise from the floor, a hand pressed to his side.


“Theo!” I stood and ran to him. “Matheo, are you –


“I’m fine. It’s just a flesh wound.”


“Are you sure? It seemed deep –


“I’m sure.” He stood now to his full height. “Let’s move. Soon the others will notice a couple of soldiers missing.” He turned to Marika. “Do you still remember the way to the cave?”


“Yes.”


“Then let’s go.”


Regaining our breaths, we entered the woods and headed east, down to where I knew a river lay hidden under a mountain. We walked for what felt like hours, Marika still holding tight to the child up in front. After the fight and the precarious situation we were still under, I trusted her more with her that I did with myself. She kept glancing behind her, dubiously glaring at me most of the time.


“What?” I asked the next time she looked back.


“This child holds power, yet I see no gleam of its essence in you.”


The question sent a jolt of pain back into my chest. “Her… father, he was the one with magic.”


She glanced at Matheo. She must have known they were friends.


“A male witch? Unusual.”


“Yet not unheard of.” He countered.


“No.” She turned to me. “Where is he now? They’re supposedly quite powerful. We could use him for –


“He’s dead.” I said, barely loud enough to hear the words myself. “A group of soldiers found out about him about a week ago. He threw himself at them without realizing they’d brought backup.”


She scoffed, and turned back to look to the path before her. “Protecting you, I take it?”


I shot a burning glare at her back, but the words had find their mark, and I couldn’t stop the tears that began to well in my eyes. “I already know I’m to blame. I don’t need a reminder from you.”


“It seems like you do.”


I stopped. “You have no right to judge –


She pivoted. “One of my own already died because of you. No doubt due to your cowardice and lack of competence.” She walked slowly forward until we were face to face, her height making me crane my neck to look up at her. “You are a liability and a disgrace to whatever tribe you came from, and if you do not make something of yourself, girl, you will no doubt get this child killed, too.”


“Marika, we don’t have time for this. We need to –


“Give me my baby.” I said to her, raging at her words but terrified about the fact that they rang too true.


Theo turned to me, an apologetic look shining in his eyes. “We are heading down a rocky path, Kee. It’s better if Marika –


“I don’t care!”


“Kyrie. Arguing will only slow us down. In a few more hours we will leave this place for good. Head to some safe land. Warn other tribes. But we have to keep moving. Let Marika carry the girl –


“Sanya, her name is Sanya.” That made him pause, and I saw the fleeting look of pain that crossed his eyes. My husband and Theo had been the few amongst the tribes to make a difference with their friendship.


“Let Marika carry Sanya. We’re close to the mountains now. She’ll be fine.”


I hesitated, but I’d seen how Marika had handled the baby during the trek. She wouldn’t harm her. “Fine.”


Once we finally reached the cave and descended the stairs that led to the river, there was a small boat tied on the edge. Matheo helped me unto it, then moved to help Marika, but she ushered him into it first. The witch unslung Sanya from her chest and passed her to me. Once she was secured on my breasts, Marika grabbed my wrist, making me look up at her. Her eyes were stern.

“There is strength buried deep in
side you, Kyrie; I can sense it. But it is up to you to reach into it and let it guide you.” She glanced at Sanya. “Now, it is no longer just you that needs taking care of.” She held my gaze, then bent to untie the boat from the bank.

“Marika… Marika, get inside the boat.”

“I cannot leave my people, Matheo. I’ll be safe knowing you three will be.”



“Marika, don’t be naive. Get in! The Northerners are slaughtering everyone. You will die if you go back.” He tried to take her hand, but she pushed the boat toward the current.


“Marika.”


“Thank you for all, Matheo.”

We were quickly sailing away from her, but I managed to see the words she mouthed to me. Find your strength, Kyrie. Then she was just a speck in the distance, and Matheo rowed us toward our new lives. I promised to myself that I would. For Sanya and myself, I would scour the world for whatever shred of strength I could use to help us survive – to raise her as she deserved. I was done being frail and afraid.


I looked at the passing mountains above, and felt a flutter of hope I hadn’t felt in a long time. A cold gust of wind blew past, and I tightened my arms on my girl.

We will be fine, baby girl. I promise you. We will be fine.
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