Chapter 1 – Coming Home

Fire. The fire is all around me. Screams fill the air. As I look across the smoke filled valley, I see my mother, a sword at her throat. I scream right as she is killed. I hear someone calling my name and look around. My father is yelling at me, telling me to go, leave, run. Then he too is killed. Anger and pain surge through me. I start slashing at people. I gasp as an immense pain fills the back of my leg when an arrow pierces my skin. I fall to the ground and look up- my vision blurred from pain- only to see my chief, Carsho, killed with a spear. I hear Joeté calling my name, and I turn to see him being dragged away by soldiers. 

“Tepi! Antepi!” His face, rugged and strained with effort, imprints itself in my memory. “Take care of Cat! Take care of her! I love..” He calls as I try to reach towards him, pulling myself along the ground. His voice is drowned out by the wails of people around me. Then they drag him away. Away from me forever.

I woke up gasping for air, clutching my throat. 

“It’s only a dream Antepi, only a dream,” I told myself. That day was almost a year ago, and yet it still haunted me day and night. I heard Catania stir on the other mat and hurriedly sat up. I stood and hurried down the steps into our small kitchen that was also my shop during the day. As I started to make a breakfast of bread and butter, Catania hopped down the steps, her light brown hair bouncing. I’m seventeen and taking care of a sixteen year old girl, who’s energy has no limits. 

“I heard you panting,” she started. “You were dreaming about ‘the day’ again?” 

“It was nothing. I’m fine.” I replied quickly, turning away from her. I didn’t want to talk about this- especially not right now.

“It’s just as hard for me Antepi. You don’t have to act like you don’t care. You don’t have to hide. I lost my parents and chief too. And I’m here for you. Joeté may not be here anymore, but I am.” I turned a little, catching sight of her pleading eyes. I grimaced as I turned back away- I shouldn’t have looked at her. It always weakened my resolve when she looked at me like that. 

“I don’t have time to mourn.” I tried to keep the impatience out of my voice. “I have to take care of you and I have to work. I promised Joeté that I would take care of you, and I mean to keep that promise.”

“Teps, this is something that we have to get through together. I know you lost more because you lost your brothers, and no one in that Antioch suffered more than you that day-” 

“Catania- I’m fine, really.” I cut her off. “I’ll be okay. It was just a dream.” I walked away, finishing the conversation. 

Later that day, I had some time to think. I lost a lot that day, but I was being insensitive to not be there for Cat. I could shut my feelings out, but Catania was sixteen and felt emotions that I learned to shut out long ago. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted my fiancé back. Joeté always knew what to say. He used to be one of the only people who could get me to open up. His blue eyes had been like pools of water that you couldn’t resist no matter what. They were so full of concern and strength that I always caved in and told him what was wrong when I looked into them. I sighed, closing my eyes against the image and shook my head. I needed to get back to work and think later.

The bell on the door to my shop jingled and I looked up sharply. Matthew Hann walked in. “Good afternoon Anne!” I cringed inwardly at his loud voice.

“Matthew, how nice to see you!” I smiled falsely, forcing a happiness I did not feel. “How are you toma-today?” I panicked for a moment, realizing I almost revealed that I was not a normal French woman. He didn’t seem to catch it but continued striding towards me without hesitation. He stopped a few feet away and only then did I see his confidence slip a bit. 

“Anne, we have been neighbors for quite some time.” He moved a little closer and I found myself leaning back slightly. Why was that my first reaction to the man who had been pursuing me since I first moved here? I should be flattered that he was so comfortable. But I wasn’t. “I was wondering if you would consider thinking of me as more than a friend.” He rushed to continue before I could interrupt. “I know that you don’t trust many men, after what happened with your previous fiancé, but I was hoping you would give me a chance.” Suddenly, I became suspicious- I never told him anything about a previous fiancé or anything of the sort. For a moment he had almost spoken with an English accent- something was definitely off. I decided to test him. 

“Matthew, there’s something I would like- no, I need- to tell you.” I stepped back a bit. “I’m not necessarily French. I was born into an ancient tribe.” I started. He spoke before I could finish. 

“What are you saying?” He questioned, leaning further forward, his hand on his chin in a thoughtful gesture.

“I am Antepi Sokonia Medlia Anyama Antioch- I am not Anne.” I lifted my chin a bit, the sound of my full name filling me with a pride I didn’t know I possessed. “I am an Antioch. We were the last warrior tribe left of the eight ancient tribes, Toshish, Camari, Blotara, Ashkin, Paritio, Wantish, and Kakara, and we are Antioch as I previously mentioned. We are different than the Antioch mentioned in the Bible- I don’t know why we bear the same name, but we are not of them. We were attacked and destroyed by the English a little less than a year ago, right before we moved here. Catie is Antioch as well. Her name is Catania Marina Sleppoa Antioch.” I decided to make an impulsive decision. I would talk to Cat about it later. “And we are going back…” 

“But you said that you were destroyed?” He rubbed his jaw, confusion all over his face. 

“We are going to see if anyone is left. If any one of our people are left, we have to find them- to rebuild what was once a great civilization of warriors.” My words filled me with a desperation for my people even as I said them without thinking. 

“But why? Don’t you care for what we have here?” His insinuation about us having anything together bothered me, but I pushed it away. I would deal with it later- if I was even here later. “You have a life here in making decorations and useful tools.” He paused for a moment, no doubt thinking of more excuses. “And you are also one of the best businesses in town. And what will all the poor beggars do without you to feed them?” 

“Yes, but if I don’t care for what I am doing, what is the point? My heart is not in it- not here.” I turned around and put my hands on the table. I didn’t want to have this conversation right now. I wanted to go to my people. Now. The longing for them suddenly intensified. “My heart lies with my people. And until I am back with them, I have nothing. I am nothing. Catie needs the outdoors. She is already feeling cooped up in here and it hasn’t even been a year since we moved.”

“If you must go, I won’t stop you.” He touched my arm, turning me to face him. He looked into my eyes, his expression pained. I wished I felt some remorse, but I felt nothing. Only coldness towards him, and a deep longing for my people. “But I won’t support it either.” He walked out of the shop quickly and I almost laughed. It seemed cruel to wish to laugh, but I didn’t need his support. Really, I didn’t want it either.

 I started packing up our bags that night so that we could leave the next morning before anyone was awake. I did not tell Matthew when we were leaving, but I was afraid he was watching our house. 

The next morning, we woke up early before the sun was up, loaded the horses with the few belongings we had, and left. We walked slowly and quietly to the edge of the village, which wasn’t very far, and pushed the horses to a slow canter, but not too fast. We didn’t want to wear them out too early in the journey.

Soon after we were outside the village, I heard- very faintly- hooves beating on the dirt road.  I sighed- Matthew had followed us. I motioned for Catania to get in the thick brush lining the road. If he passed us, we could go on our journey one way, and he would have no idea where we had gone. We watched as Matthew rode straight past at a swift canter. 

“Stay down. He may come back when he doesn’t see us.” I whispered to Catania. When I could no longer hear the hoofbeats, I stepped out of the bushes. 

“Antepi… are we sure this is the right decision?” As we stepped out of the brush, Catania kept talking. “Why do we want to go back? Why couldn’t we stay in the town? It could be pointless.” 

“We have to know what’s left. If there are people there, we could have a chance to be in our own environment again! The chance to live like we are used to! Don’t you want to go home?” I couldn’t understand why she was so set against going home.

“Of course I do, but what if no one is there? What if you are wrong and no one came back?”

“Well, then we will find whoever survived. There has to be someone, anyone, who survived! I will search all of France to find at  least one survivor. And if there are none,” I threw my hands up a little, “then I don’t know. But I do know that if there is even the slightest chance of finding our families, then we have to take it. “

We rode most of the day until we are practically upon the Antioch Valley. 

“Are you sure you want to do this? To see the ruins of our village?” Catania looked over at me warily.

“We have to know.” I set my jaw and prepared myself for whatever I would see next. 

But instead of finding ruins as we broke through the trees at the edge of the valley, we saw a thriving village with a watch tower and wells and people walking about. I quickly pulled my horn out of my saddle bag and blew my special call that I had been given as a child. I heard shouts coming from below as people started rushing from their homes towards us. I pushed my horse to a gallop to meet them all, rushing towards them without any thought for my own safety. At the very front I saw my brother, Matthias. Right before I reached them, I jumped off my horse and straight into his waiting arms. 

“We thought you were dead!” He began.”We thought we would never see you again! How are you alive?” 

I couldn’t even speak through my tears of happiness. He was alive and well. He wasn’t dead like I had thought. I clung to him, unable to let go, for fear he would disappear right in front of me. My face was wet and I could barely see, but all I could think about was that he was alive. As I turned around I noticed Respato standing there wearing the necklace of our chief. In unison, Catania and I fell to our knees in respect for our chief. 

“Rise, Antepi and Catania. It is good to have you home.” He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder. I smiled back up at him, but I didn’t feel like smiling. The pain and exhaustion in his eyes scared me, but what chilled me to the bone was the coldness. His eyes were cold, and almost unfeeling behind the facade of confidence and strength. I looked away, willing myself to push that image of his eyes out of my mind. I looked over at Matthias and he held out his arm, ready to lead me to my family’s old hut. 

Soon I was walking into my old home, that was now Matthias’s home. But everything was different- nothing about the room was the same. I looked quickly to the mantle where my mother’s wooden carvings had sat for so long. They had been a monumental part of our childhood, one for each of us, representing us.  

“Where are Meisha’s carvings?” I whirled around to stare at Matthias. “How could you not have them on the fireplace?” 

A woman stared at me from the fire, looking confused and frightened. A little girl sat on a bed in the corner. Matthias cleared his throat and looked at the floor.  

“Well, allow me to introduce you two. Hypoleta, this is Antepi Sokonia Medlia Anyama Antioch- my little sister.” He paused for a moment. “Teps, this is my wife, Heppia- or as she is now known, Hypoleta- and my daughter Sahara.” I looked at the girl and the woman warily, before studying the girl for a moment. I was confused- this girl looked like she was six years old. But how could that be? I turned to look back at Matthias, raising my eyebrows. He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “I married Hypoleta a long while ago. Whenever I had to leave for something, I would go visit her… and then we had Sahara. She is six and a half.”  He held his breath, no doubt waiting for the explosion about to burst out of my mouth.

“It is… nice to meet both of you.” I nodded to both of them.

“And you as well. We have heard so much about you.” Hypoleta smiled, but I could tell she was wary.

“Yeah! Pasha has told me so much about you! He said you were really fun.” Sahara ran forward, but stopped short and stared up at me.

I raised my eyebrows at Matthias. “Funny how I have heard nothing about you.” I crouched down to where Sahara had come to stand in front of me. “Maybe sometime soon we can go out to the training field and have some fun.” 

I heard Hypoleta suck in a breath. Matthias hurried to answer me before she could. “Hypoleta and I have decided not to train Sahara. That is the way that most people are deciding to go. They think that it is better if we don’t train the children. They believe that training the young ones has been worthless since the beginning, and that we should spend more time training ourselves. And they say that is the reason that we lost. Because our parents had been training us rather than getting better.”

 He bit his lower lip and the look in his eyes pleaded with me. 

“So our training was worthless? The very thing that kept us alive was worthless?” I shook my head in disbelief. “They didn’t say that when you and I captured an English spy. Or when we kept our people from being vanquished.” I narrowed my eyes at him a little. “We survived because we were trained. It isn’t worthless; it is essential to our survival.” I took a big deep breath and bent down to look into Sahara’s eyes again. “Maybe you and I can do something soon.” I shook my head in disgust at Matthias, nodded curtly to Hypoleta and walked towards the door. I hurried toward the stables looking straight ahead, my vision starting to blur from anger and frustration. The feeling that nothing was the same overwhelmed me. I had tried to pretend that everything was the same, that nothing had changed. That I was just coming home after a day of being away and everything would be easy. This was a whole new blow. Matthias was married and had a daughter. I had missed so much and I had a feeling that a lot more was about to be thrown my way. Everything was changing so fast and I was sca- I suddenly caught myself. I had grown too soft while we had been away. I shouldn’t care about everything that was changing. But I did. I did care that everything were different. I did care that I had missed my brother’s wedding and my niece’s birth, although I couldn’t have helped that even by being here.  I shook my head. I couldn’t think about that now- I had to push it down, like I had when Joeté got captured and when my parents were killed. I could not- not now and not ever- show how scared I was. 

The second blow followed close behind the first- my best friend and sister-in-law had also been killed in the attack, leaving her husband and daughter behind. Renaglo, my second oldest brother, was then put in jail for no reason by Respato. Respato claims that Renaglo was one of the men to organize the attack and was working with the British. I know he would never have done that. That would risk everything with Sophi and Senepha and he would never be willing to do that. Sophi was the most important person in his life, and jeopardizing her life, and Senepha’s life would make it out of the question. 

Senepha was now in Respato’s care and he was enjoying having Sophi’s child in his home. When we were younger, Respato and Sophi had been together, but only briefly before Sophi decided she needed to focus more on training than her love life. After she spent many years training, she decided that she could focus on other things, and fell in love with Renaglo. They got married soon after and had a baby girl, Senepha. She was beautiful and looked so much like her mother. I know that stung Renaglo. For Sophi to have a child that looked exactly like her, and it not be his made him angry. After putting Renaglo in prison, Respato took Senepha and brought her to his house as his daughter. He loves her like his own, but even Senepha knows that he is far from being her father. Now that I was home though, as the closest female blood relative, I could claim her as my niece. I get to keep her until I get Renaglo out of prison.

Having Senepha with me really started helping me cope with everything. The loss and heartache from losing so many of our people started to bear down on me. She made me happy with her little antics. I knew that it made her sad to see me sad, and I tried to be brave around her, but sometimes I couldn’t help it. 

 Senepha was a little girl with a big heart who lost her mother and then her father when she was only six. Yet she was still sweet and kind and loved having her long, golden hair brushed and braided. I missed Sophi, but having Senepha there made everything a little better. 

After officially meeting Hypoleta and Sahara, I was able to deal with their coming better. Hypoleta was kind and didn’t judge me for my first impression of her. Sahara was sweet and brought me flowers as a welcome home gift. Senepha and her were best friends and pulling them apart was hard to do, as they were practically glued to each other’s side. The two of them tried to negotiate Senepha staying the night that first night, being the young schemers that they were, but unsuccessfully. It was already late by the time we had stopped talking and she needed to get to bed soon. 

When I tucked Senepha in for bed, she smiled sleepily.

“I love you Antepi.” She whispered as I kissed her forehead.

“I love you too meese lonva, my little love.” I smiled and blew out the little candle on the nightstand. I sat down in one of the chairs in the kitchen and put my head in my hands. I needed Joeté. I needed him to be here with me right now. Without him, I could never make it here. He had always made me feel better when I felt weak. I grabbed the side of the chair and took a deep breath. I slid down to the floor and lay on my back. This couldn’t be happening; not now. I thought these would stop when I got back. I gasped for air and sat up quickly. I leaned against the chair and sighed. The tears rolled down my cheeks unhindered. I curled up against the bottom of the chair and cried. My hair fell in front of my face as I looked down watching the tears fall onto my skirt. I covered my mouth and sobbed. Things were never going to be normal again and nothing could change that. No matter how hard I tried.