Chapter Twenty Four AND Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty- Four- The Trial of the Elders

The next two weeks flew by without any drama. I tried to keep things as uncomplicated as possible. Joeté and Catania came everyday and tried to keep me occupied. Hypoleta was constantly trying to get me to stay in bed longer, but eventually Matthias convinced her that I would not be moved in my decision. 

Joeté came running into my hut early one morning. I looked up, alarmed. 

“What’s wrong? Did something happen?” I reached for my knife that had been strapped to my thigh ever since I was allowed out of my bed. 

“No, nothing is wrong- but the trial of elders is about to meet to decide what to do about Adam.” 

I walked with him to one of the meeting tents. I squeezed my eyes shut to protect from the smoke before ducking inside. 

I opened my eyes slowly, looked around, and saw the seven elders sitting at one end of the room. Their seven successors sat behind them. They had been deciding the fate of criminals since before I could remember. When they were younger, they were called the trial of advisors, because they weren’t elderly yet. Once they became too old to make all the decisions, they would hand the job over to a successor of their choice. And then the cycle would start again. Generally, they advised the chief, but because we did not have a chief at the moment, they made most of the decisions for the people. What little was left to do, Matthias and I split between the two of us. I sat on the floor at the front of the crowd of people who had gathered. When you live in a valley where not much happens, a trial of the elders is one of the most exciting things that can happen. 

One of the elders, Manchon, cleared his throat. 

“Please bring the accused forward.” He nodded towards Adam and the man guarding him. Adam stood in front of them, near the fire.

“Adam Jeekis, you are accused of trying to injure and possibly kill one of our best warriors. What do you have to say?”

Adam glared at them all. “Of course I did it. I’ve been planning how to kill her ever since I got here, but she was never alone long enough when I was out of those caves. I settled for the next best thing. Cause her to lose her arm, and she can never fight again. Maybe even die in the operation.” He stared coldly at me. “But that obviously didn’t work.” 

“Obviously.” I replied bitterly. I could barely think when I felt so disgusted. 

“You will face a penalty for your crimes.” 

“What penalty can you give me that can stop me?”

Manchon stood up, his features dark from anger. “You forget where you are, young man. I could have you handed over to the king who will have no qualms with killing you. Let me make one thing very clear. I am showing you mercy by letting you live. I am showing your father mercy by letting him live and not sending him to the king who would surely have him put out of his misery. You are in France now young man, and you are at the mercy of its people.” You could feel the tension in the room building. “You will face the penalties for your rash actions, and you will regret that you ever stepped foot in Antioch Valley.” He turned to the other elders. “What do we decide the boy’s punishment will be?”

Another elder spoke up. “I think we should banish him upon penalty of death if he ever returns.” 

“Except  we know he most likely will return, and then we have a boy’s death on our heads.” Manchon replied. 

Adam laughed and all the elders turned to him. 

“Do you find something funny, boy?”

Adam’s eyes looked cold and black as he stared the elder down. “You all are so divided, no wonder it was easy to defeat you.You can not even agree on how to punish me. This would never happen in England, and that is why we will vanquish you.”

I stepped forward. “Quite the contrary, Jeekis. You will not vanquish us, because we are different. Because we have different opinions. If we all thought the same thing, nothing would ever happen and we would be in a very bad place. And that is why you will never defeat us.”   

The oldest of the elders stood. “We will banish him. And if he ever returns, he will be sent to the Capital to live the rest of his days in a small cell with rats. If any of his family chooses to accompany him, they may. They are free to return to France as often as they wish to visit the General. If they choose to stay, they will be given a comfortable cell near Jeekis’s and will live there until they wish to go back to England. But Jeekis will never be permitted to leave.” 

The other elders nodded in agreement. Manchon addressed the crowd. “Does this verdict please Antioch?” A chorus of agreement rang out. He nodded and turned to Adam. “May God forgive you for the sins you have committed in trying to kill Antepi.” 

The guards led Adam out of the hut, Eleanor and Melissa following closely. Hannah stood in the doorway and watched them walk towards the caves. 

“Are you okay?” I walked over and stood next to her.

She nodded. “It is what he deserves for trying to hurt you.” She sighed. “He always idolized our father. I think all of us did. But he thought Father was the best man in the world and that he could do no wrong. Melissa realized sooner than the rest of us that he wasn’t the saint we made him out to be. I never wanted to accept it, but I guess that in the back of my mind, I always knew it.”

“Will you go with him?”
She smiled softly. “No. No, I don’t think I will. If he was willing to kill you and have no problems with it, he isn’t someone I would like to surround myself with.” 

“Will you stay here or go back to England?”

“I think that I will stay here. My life is here now. My father is here, you all are here. That’s all I have left.” 

I smiled. “And your sister and mother?”

She laughed. “Melissa will stay. I know that she will. She has some crazy dreams of converting my father to be good. To repent of all the wickedness he has done.”

“And you don’t think it will happen?”

“Honestly, I think that if he wanted to change and be different, he would have done it a long time ago.” 

“You have no faith in your own father?” 

“Growing up, he was not a good man. He drank and did things that were horrible. But my mother always hid it from us and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. Not until later years did we actually realize how mean and low he was.” 

“You mother seems to still love him.” I looked over to gage her reaction. 

She sighed. “Mother will never hear anything bad said about him, no matter what. She seems to believe that anything he did was the right thing to do, or else he wouldn’t have done it.” 

“Will she stay with him or go with Adam?” 

“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know at this point. She is my mother, and I love her and I would never want to disrespect her, but she hasn’t changed. And I don’t think- even for my father- that she could stay here long. Even for the time she has been here, I think it has been hard. She is used to the finer life, and this isn’t it for her. I think she will return with Adam and come and visit my father every couple months or so.” 

“And Adam? Do you think he will honor the penalty?”

“I hope for his own sake that he does, but it isn’t likely. I think my mother will try to make sure he stays away for the rest of his life, but I don’t think it will have much effect. I will go and visit them every once in awhile just to make sure he is turning over a new leaf. Maybe even get him a wife.” She looked over at me. “I have a question that I have been meaning to ask you.” I ran through all the possible things she could ask me in my head, finding none that would relate to this conversation. 

“What is it?” 

“When the war is over, will my father go free, or will he have to stay here, even when it is finished?”

I sighed. “Honestly, I don’t know. No one has really thought about when the war will be over. Everyone is so focused on ending it, and we won’t know what to do when it is over. He might go free under the condition that he may never help England attack us again, but I am not sure.”  

“Do you ever miss when things were easy, and we could just enjoy things?”

I smiled and laughed sadly. “Every day. I miss when no war was happening that I needed to focus on, when I could just have fun with my friends, and things were so simple. It isn’t like that anymore.” I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. “Do you miss it? England?”

“In some ways, yes. In others, no. Back home, we put everyone into the boxes of good and bad. France- and anyone who helped her- were bad. England and her allies were good. We made everything out to be so black and white. Here, it is the people who define whether they are good or bad- not their nationality. I think that’s why I am so drawn to staying here. I have no reason to be here, but I want to be.”

“You have every reason to be here.” I leaned against the door post. “You are part of our family that we have manufactured to make up for the lack of one. We wouldn’t be the same without you.”

She smiled. “I thought you would be the one that wished for me to leave the most.” 

“At one time, maybe. But you have definitely changed for the better. I never expected to be able to rely on you to stick up for Antioch, and yet on Sunday you proved me wrong.”

“I know that we started out as enemies-”

I interrupted her. “Only because you made us enemies.” I reminded her playfully. 

She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, even though we started out as enemies, I hope that it isn’t that way anymore.”

“Not by a long shot.” 

“Thank you, Antepi. For accepting me into your family.” She looked back inside the tent. “I think I should go check on my mother and try to stem the flow of anger that is no doubt coming from her.” 

I smiled. “Have fun with that.” 

“Trust me- I will.” She ran towards the cave’s entrance at a quick jog. 

I walked slowly towards the stables, taking in the fresh air that was quickly turning colder. I saddled Amor and rode towards the pass. 

Once I reached the end of the pass, I dismounted and looked around. I sat down on a rock and closed my eyes. I heard the birds chirping in the trees and the breeze blowing the branches. I could feel the cool wind brushing my skin. 

I took a deep breath. Memories of playing here as a child floated back through my thoughts. Respato climbing the side of the pass and almost falling. Joeté chasing Catania and I through while we played. Having barriers set up and learning how to climb over them quickly.  Gracia learning how to use her whips. Matthias tripping over rocks that weren’t even there. He was so clumsy when he was younger. Tyler teaching me how to throw knives. My eyes popped open. Tyler? It couldn’t be… but it made sense. No wonder he had seemed so familiar. Tyler had lived in Antioch when he was younger. 

I mounted quickly and rode at a gallop towards the caves. I tied Amor to a tree and ran down into the caves. I walked, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, to Tyler Morran’s cell. He sat there weaving a basket. I stopped short. He looked up and grinned. 

“Not exactly what you expected I would be doing, is it?” 

“Not really.” I sat down on the bench across from him. “Why didn’t you tell me?” His hands ceased moving. He didn’t look up. 

“Tell you what?” 

“That you lived in Antioch for awhile when you were younger.”

He sighed and continued weaving. “I didn’t think it was necessary.” He shrugged. 

I sat back, exasperated. “What is it with you men thinking that important information isn’t necessary? Especially when it could save you from so much trouble.” 

“Judging from your tone, that’s been happening quite a bit lately?”

“Over the past year? More than quite a bit.” I looked over at him. “You know you wouldn’t be down here if you had told me.”

“So growing up in Antioch automatically gives me credibility?” He looked up from his weaving. “Just because I have a background that is good, doesn’t mean I am. Look what happened with Respato. You have to stop assuming that just because people are Antioch means that they automatically support France and everything that happens with it.”

“I am saying that it adds credibility. You already are trusted with many things down here, and you are known by everyone as a good man. You are only down here because everyone assumed that you were English.” 

“I told you that I am only half English, half French.” He reminded me. 

“Yes, but you are also Antioch.” 

“No, I never said I was Antioch. I lived in Antioch for five years from the time I was seven to the time I was twelve. But I have no Antioch blood in me.” I looked him over.

“But you have Toshish blood- don’t you?”

“Don’t push it Antepi. You might find answers to questions you never asked.”

“Tyler. You are from a warrior tribe- I know you are. Your mother told me when I was little that she was from the Toshish tribe. That gives you even more of a reason for you to be released. So why don’t you just tell people? You are a good man, Tyler. And if you won’t tell them, I will. I already told you that I wanted you to be a warrior for Antioch, and you agreed. So why didn’t you tell anyone?”

“Because I was alive when Toshish was destroyed. I watched the English burn my people. And we weren’t as lucky as Antioch. We didn’t survive. My mother and I are the last of Toshish.”

“Then how can you aid in destroying Antioch?”

“Because I didn’t know until it was too late. I couldn’t desert- they would take my mother’s home from her. I had to do it. But I will never do it again.”

“Tyler- I am not asking you to. But I am telling everyone who you are, if they haven’t already figured it out.” 

“Go ahead. But I am not leaving this cell.” I stood up. “I am not the good man you think me to be, Antepi. I have done horrible things in my life back in England. I am not the same good child that you knew all those years ago.”

“I don’t expect you to be. I’m not the same person that you knew either. I’ve done bad things. Things that don’t make it easy to sleep at night. So I don’t expect you to be the child I once knew,” I stopped and looked back at him. “I expect you to be better.” I continued walking out of the cell. “For your mother.” 

The Toshish hadn’t died out yet. There was still hope of rebuilding it. And if I could do anything about it, I would make sure that it came back stronger than ever.

I walked through the caves to where Adam was staying. I stopped next to the guard. 

“I wish to speak to the prisoner in private.” I nodded toward Eleanor sitting next to him on the bench. The guard nodded. 

“Madame, please step out of the cell.” Eleanor looked up and Melissa looked up from the cell she was sitting in across the hall. 

Eleanor stood and brushed past me. She glared at me before joining Melissa. I closed the door behind me. 

I sat down on the bench across from Adam and looked him over. “Why?”

He smirked. “So many reasons why. You took my sister’s fiance, you imprisoned my father, and those are just the beginning.” 

“Your father killed my parents. He killed my sister-in-law. He killed some of my best friends. Do you know what it is like to live without your parents?” I leaned forward, staring into his eyes. “You have lived your nice sheltered life for the past year, while I have had to fend for myself. I haven’t had my mother to run to every time I need something. I haven’t had my father to ask for advice about something that is troubling me. And why? Because your father killed them.” I leaned back against the cold stone wall. “How do you feel about that?” 

For the first time, a bit of remorse glinted in his eyes. But there was also curiosity. “How many died?”

“I don’t know. Maybe forty. We never tried to count. We didn’t know the exact number of  people we had in the first place, so we didn’t know how many died. We know who we lost, and that is enough.”

“I didn’t know.” He looked down at his hands. 

“I know. Hannah told me. I don’t blame you for your father’s actions- I don’t blame you for anything, really. But you blame me. Don’t you? And answer honestly.”

“Yes. I blame you for making it so that I will never see my father again, because I am stuck outside France, and he is stuck inside.” 

“That isn’t my fault Adam. I didn’t make you throw that knife in my arm.” 

“I know. I am sorry.” I looked up at him sharply. 

“Your tough exterior is mostly a facade, isn’t it?” I thought about how to respond to what his answer to that might be.

He nodded. “You would know something about that, from what I have heard, wouldn’t you?”

I shrugged coldy. While I forgave him and wanted to seem open I definitely wasn’t about to give him any sort of way to manipulate me. “It protects us. Keeps us safe.

He nodded. “You know, I never thought I would be able to relate with someone from France, much less one of the best warriors.” 

“That makes two of us- although for me, it is the other way around. I never thought I would relate with someone from England.” I stood and opened the door. I looked back before stepping out. “I am sorry, Adam. It is hard for me to separate a father from his son after losing mine. Maybe someday they will allow you to come back. I will try to help your cause.”

He stood. “Why?”

“For many reasons.” I smiled. “I try to believe there is good in everyone. And you have some in you somewhere. You just have to find it. But until you do, you can not come back here. Live your life well, Adam. Think about the mistakes you have made, their consequences, and how to learn from them.” I stepped outside. Adam put his head in his hands and ran them through his hair. 

“Oh, and Adam?”

He looked up. “What?”

I smiled a little before answering softly.“I forgive you.”

Chapter Twenty- Five- Good News in the Storm

I woke up the next morning with a sense of dread. I didn’t know why, but something felt off. I stepped out the door and onto the miniature porch that leads to the steps. The sky was dark and thunder was booming in the distance. Everyone was standing outside their doors, looking at the sky. I hurried down the stairs towards Hypoleta and Matthias’s house. 

Matthias stood outside with his arm around Hypoleta, who was holding Sahara. 

“It’s coming from the coast. We should prepare for the worst.” I looked back up at the threatening clouds. 

He nodded and kissed Hypoleta’s cheek. “We have to get the horses and animals down to the caves. And we need to pack up the meeting tents. This looks like one that will cause lots of flooding in the valley.” Renaglo came running over with Senepha in his arms.

“Will you take care of her while we get everything ready?” He asked Hypoleta. She nodded. 

Soon everyone that could help was gathered in one of the main meeting tents. Matthias stood at the center. “We need to bring out the boats, and we need to take down all the meeting tents. Catania, Renaglo, Haska, and Honah, I need you to get all the animals down to the caves where they will be safe.” The four of them set out. “Titro, Gracia, Joeté, Antepi, I need you to get the boats out and bring them to as many huts as possible. But don’t go yet, because I have more instructions. The rest of us, get the tents that are on the ground taken down, packed up, and taken to the storage huts. When you are done, get your families into your houses. If you have sisters or brothers, get them and their families into your hut with you. We need to keep as many people in one place as possible, in case something happens.” He looked around. “I think that is it. Everyone, go and get it done!” 

We hurried down to the caves and started pulling the boats out. We stored small row boats in the caves in case the valley flooded and we weren’t able to get around. We usually don’t need to use them because it rarely rains hard enough for there to be flooding, but this is a storm from the coast. If it made it this far inland and was still that strong, it would have to be a bad one. The boats were small and light, but could still fit a whole family in, if they were willing to squish. I turned to Joeté as I carried one of the boats above my head. 

“This is one of the worst storms we have had in a long while. How long do you think it will last?”

He tried to look up at the sky, but just looked up at the boat over his head. He shook his head, laughing. “A few days at least.”

I set my boat down at the top of the steps of someone’s hut and hurried down the stairs. As I walked I looked up at the sky. “How long do you think we have?” I turned to Joeté, who was running up behind me from where he had set his boat down. 

He studied the clouds. “I would say a few hours, maybe more. If it is from the coast, it will only have gained more power on the way here.”

I stood still for a moment and Joeté looked back at me. The lightning crashed and I waited for the thunder. “It is five miles away, which means that it is still on the water. It will only get stronger.” I hurried back towards the caves. “We don’t have much time.” 

After all the boats had been taken to the different huts, we joined everyone in Hypoleta and Matthias’s hut. We all sat down around the table and everything was quiet. The thunder sounded in the background and Senepha clutched my hand tighter. She sat in between Joeté and I and every time the thunder or lightning sounded, she squeezed both of our hands. Matthias looked around. 

“We could be here awhile, so why don’t we start some conversation?” He stood and Hypoleta stood with him. “We have some news.” Everyone looked up at the two of them. “We are expecting another child.” I felt my eyes widen to three times their regular size. Catania choked on the water she had just taken a drink of. Hypoleta smiled and looked down at Sahara. 

“What do you think, Hara? You are going to be a big sister!” 

Sahara looked up at her and shook her head. “Not good. That means I have to be nice and share my toys that Pasha made me.” 

Everyone laughed and her face turned red. “Well you better get used to it, little one, because it is permanent.” Matthias knelt and looked into her eyes. “But I think you will be a very good big sister.” She nodded solemnly. 

She ran over and crawled into my lap. Senepha looked over at her slowly and without taking her eyes off of Sahara, moved into Joeté’s lap. I looked from her to Sahara to Joeté and the two of us burst out laughing. Everyone looked over at us strangely. I took a deep breath, trying to stop and finally was able to stop the laughter bursting out of me.

 I looked up at Matthias as if nothing had happened. “You were saying?”

He shook his head, laughing. “I will never understand you two.” 

The rest of the morning was spent congratulating Hypoleta and Matthias, asking what they would name it if it were a boy or if it were a girl, and when it was due. 

As everyone ate their food at lunchtime, Titro stood up. “In no way wanting to take away from Matt and Hypoleta’s great news, Gracia and I have something we would like to share.” Pasha looked between the two of them, confused. “We are also expecting a baby.” Gracia smiled from where she was sitting in a chair. 

Matthias clapped Titro on the shoulder. “It is about time.” They both smiled broadly. Pasha stood and hugged Gracia, then Titro. I smiled at Gracia from across the room. I knew this was probably hard for her, after losing their first daughter. For her sake, and everyone else’s, I hoped the baby would be a strong and happy child.

 I took a bite of the apple that I was eating and looked over at Hypoleta. I could tell she was trying to be happy for Titro and Gracia, but was still a little upset. In Antioch, the more children being born at one time, the better. We could share the burdens and things were easier on all the mothers involved. But outside Antioch, it was considered rude to share your news of expecting the same day as someone else did. It seemed inconsiderate and selfish to take away from someone else’s moment. No one here thought about it because we had all grown up here and were used to this. But Hypoleta had never experienced this before. She had never known what it was like to have to share her moment with someone else. I made my way over to her and put my arm around her.

“I know it is hard, when you first experience something here, for things to be different than you are used to. I know that this is your moment, but it is also Gracia’s. She has been through a lot, and so have you. You two can work together for this. You will both have babies, and you can share advice and things like that. It won’t be as hard as you think, once you get used to it.” 

She smiled at me. “How’d you know? Even Matthias can’t tell I am upset.” She watched him as he talked with Titro. 

“Call it a woman’s intuition. And the way you are staring longingly at Matthias talking with them helps a little.” I teased her. 

“Do you think anyone else can tell?”

“You are pretty good at hiding it. Keep yourself busy, congratulate them, and act happy. The more you pretend, the truer it becomes. And the less you think about it. I am so happy for you and I know that as hard as it may be now, you will be just fine when the time comes. When Gracia has a baby and can give you advice, help you, and comes to you for advice, you will be glad.” I smiled at her.  

She hugged me. “Thank you Antepi. I didn’t think anyone would even notice.”

“Sweetheart, you need to have some more faith in your family.” I laughed.

 I walked back over and sat in a chair. I curled my legs up under me and pulled a blanket over my legs. Ever since I was little, I loved having blankets around me whenever I could. Even if I was not necessarily cold, I would wrap a blanket around me, or drape it over me, because it provided me with this sense of security. It made me feel like someone had their arms around me, was watching over me, and was always protecting me. I never stopped liking having any type of blanket around me. I studied the blanket, with all its patterns. My Meisha had made this for me when I was little. She had stitched all sorts of patterns in it to keep me occupied when I was looking at it. I looked up to find Renaglo studying me. I raised my eyebrows. He made his way over. 

“That blanket is very old.” He observed. I smoothed it out. 

“Yes it is.”

He sat in the chair next to me. I jumped as the thunder boomed again. In all the commotion, I had forgotten that it was still storming. 

He shook his head and laughed. “I didn’t think that one of the best warriors around would be scared of a little thunder.” He teased. I mock- glared at him. 

“So, why were you staring at me?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. 

“I wasn’t staring at you, I was looking at you- first of all. And second of all- I was looking at you because you looked worried about something. So what was it?” He leaned back, his hands behind his head, obviously satisfied with his explanation. 

“Well, I wasn’t worried about anything, I was thinking. And even if I were, why would I tell you?” I smirked at being able to avoid his questions so easily.

“Because we have established a ‘no secrets among family’ rule? Because I am your brother? Because I care about you? There are a lot of reasons why you would tell me.” He raised one eyebrow. 

“Now my turn.” I smiled ruefully. “I wouldn’t tell you because it would be personal. I wouldn’t tell you because last time I did, you all caused me to have a panic attack. I wouldn’t because as much as you care about me, you will put making sure that I don’t have any secrets above my personal safety.” I smiled satisfactorily. 

He shook his head. “You do realize that you are just providing more reasons to make me believe that I was right about you being worried about something.” He spoke in a low tone. “Last time was a mistake, Antepi. We won’t let it happen again. And at this point, I would hope that you weren’t keeping any secrets from us.” 

I shook my head decidedly. “None.” Something was forming at the back of my mind, but I pushed it away. For the time being, I was honestly not keeping anything from them that I could think of. But I tried not to think about it. 

As night fell, the little girls quietly went to bed. The rest of us sat in a circle, no one speaking,  everyone just looking at each other. I looked from face to face and noticed everyone else doing the same. The worst part was when you made eye contact with someone because you looked at them while they were looking at you. Both of you tried not to laugh and quickly looked to the next person. Pasha sat outside the circle, looking at everyone while loudly crunching on an apple. Apples seemed to be a recurring thing in my life right now. 

Outside the lightning crashed and everything was dark for a moment. When I could see again, I opened my eyes to find Matthias’s face right in front of mine. I screamed, then clapped my hand over my mouth and tried to stifle it. Matthias fell back from his knees onto his back, laughing. I kicked at him playfully and laughed. Everyone else started laughing as Matthias hurried out of my reach and back to his seat. 

I shook my head mirthfully. “You are so going to get it.” He grinned. When it was dark again, I swiftly and quietly ran over in front of Catania. She let out a small gasp and almost fell out of her chair. I ran back to my chair laughing. It went on like that for at least an hour, each of us taking turns scaring people. Every time it went dark, I braced myself and kept my legs out in front of me. At one point, I stuck my legs out in front of me, and when Renaglo ran by, he tripped and fell over my legs. I laughed so hard that I fell out of my chair. 

One by one, each of us took a blanket, laid it on the floor, and went to bed.   

It went on like that for three days. We woke up to it still raining, and went back inside. Occasionally one of us would row over to the other huts and talk with everyone else. But mostly, we stayed in our hut and talked. We were all beginning to get tired of each other’s company. 

I woke up on the fourth morning and looked outside. The water would have come up to my waist if I had gone down into it. I heard a noise behind me just before someone pushed me into the water from behind. I came up spluttering and wiped my eyes. I looked up and saw Pasha standing on the small porch, laughing. 

I waded through the water towards the stairs, but before I could even get to the bottom, Titro grabbed him by the waist and jumped in, bringing Pasha with him. Soon everyone was jumping in. Even Hypoleta and Gracia waded in without being prompted. It was still raining, but not hard. The water continued to get deeper, little by little, but it did not hinder us. All of Antioch was having a good time, not worrying about what tomorrow would bring, and enjoying each other’s company. I quietly swam up behind Pasha and jumped on his back. I pushed down on his head, bringing him under. He came up sputtering and whipping around wildly, trying to figure out where I was. I laughed and tried as hard as I could to run away, but the water made it hard to get far. He grabbed my shoulders and pushed me under. I came up laughing and spitting water out of my mouth. I jumped on his back again and leaned back, having him support me as I floated on top of the water. He started running and pulled me through the water behind him. I floated on my back as he “dragged” me through the water. I released him from my legs and laughed. He turned around and jumped through the air on top of me. He wrapped his arms around me and pushed me under the water. 

As I came up gasping for air and laughing, I felt another pair arms wrap around my waist from behind. They pulled me around in a circle through the water. When I turned after they stopped, Joeté was standing right in front of me. My smile faltered slightly, but not enough for anyone to notice. 

“How are we going to get all this water out?” He asked quietly, trying to put me at ease. 

“Draining. Or we take lots of baths.” I laughed a little breathlessly. I took a deep breath and tried to explain the shortness of my breath. “Sorry, I have been dunked about a thousand times. Makes it a little hard to breathe when you are underwater.”

He smiled slyly and I braced myself. “Well let me make it a thousand and one.” He pulled me back against his chest and threw himself back under the water. I screamed a little, laughing. This was one of the first times that Antioch has just been able to let their worries go for a little while. As he pushed us back up off the bottom of the valley and out of the water, he slipped causing us to fall back under the water. 

I burst out laughing under water and the water filled my lungs. I rose out of the water, coughing the water out and laughing. My nose burnt like fire, but it was worth it. Joeté’s head popped up a few feet away. He shook his head, spraying water from his light brown hair. I shied away before remembering that I was already soaked from head to toe, and it didn’t matter whether I got a little more wet. I splashed a little bit of water at him and turned away. 

Suddenly a huge wave of water hit me from behind. I turned, only to be smacked in the face with yet another giant wave. I could hear Joeté laughing as he sent wave after wave at me. I dove under and swam until I could feel someone’s legs. I lifted him up out of the water and over my shoulder. He was heavier than he looked and I almost dropped him, but his womanly scream in reaction was worth it. Everyone turned to stare at him as he emitted the high-pitched scream. He clapped his hand over his mouth, throwing us off balance and propelling himself headfirst into the water and pulling me backwards. I let go of him before he pulled me under with him, but he went all the way under. As he started coming up, I started running, knowing there will surely be swift revenge. 

He came up laughing and focused on me. “I’m going to get you for that. And you can’t run away fast enough.” He started coming after me, and I tried to run harder, but I was laughing too hard to go much faster. “Because I am bigger.” He reached to grab me, but I barely evaded his hands. “Faster.” He tried again, getting even closer this time. “And stronger.” He finally reached me and pulled me against him. “Than you.” He whispered in my ear before throwing me high into the air. I came down with a hard smack and water splashed everywhere. As I wiped the water out of my eyes, laughing, I shook my head.

“Truce. Truce!” I stuck out my hand.

 He took it and started to shake it before pausing and pulling me closer. He stood there for a moment, considering. Then he smiled. “There will be no truces!” And pushed me under. 

I felt his arms release me. As I came up, I saw he was several feet away, trying to keep Renaglo- with Senepha on his shoulders- from pushing him under without hurting Senepha. I turned just as Matthias pushed me under. 

I came up quickly and looked between the three. “Taking sides, are we?” Matthias nodded, smiling. Joeté nodded at him and Matthias ran over and grabbed Senepha off of Renaglo’s shoulders. She screamed and kicked, so he held her at arm’s length, but he got her to some steps and set her down. The minute he turned his back, she flung herself at him, clawing at his back. She kept hold of his head until he finally wrestled her off and set her back on the steps. 

“I take Antepi’s side.” She glared at him before breaking into laughter. She pointed at him. “You were so confused there for a second. I can’t believe you actually thought that I thought this was serious.”

Matthias relaxed. “Senepha- you will make a great warrior someday. You are excellent at masking your emotions.” He leaned forward and threw her over his shoulder. “Hey Renaglo! I have a load over here that needs dropped off.” Renaglo looked over quickly before laughing and going back to his fruitless efforts to get Joeté under the water. 

“Come on Renaglo! Even I can do that.” I laughed.

Joeté grunted. “I was going too easy on you, obviously.” He pushed Renaglo back a little.  

“Oh, definitely. Especially when I threw you over my shoulder and you screamed as loud and high as Senepha and Sahara when they got their first knife.” I heard a noise behind me and ducked as Titro went sailing over my head. 

Soon it was an all out war as everyone took sides and tried to dunk the other. Senepha, Sahara, Gracia, and Hypoleta stood on the stairs, cheering on the different sides. I pushed a girl- Analima- under and continued working my way towards Joeté. He succeeded in getting rid of Renaglo, only to be attacked by Catania. I jumped onto Haska and pushed down as hard as I could. He tried to fight back, but eventually sunk under the water. I pushed myself off of his shoulders and swam harder. I finally reached Joeté where he had pushed Catania under the water and was trying to run away.  

I threw myself onto his back, and whispered into his ear. “Don’t worry. I will make it easy on you.” 

He smirked. “I look forward to it.” He kissed my forehead, catching me by surprise. It gave him just enough time to pull me around to the front and wrap me in his arms. I tried to struggle free, but he held tightly. “I will extend the same courtesy to you.” He paused a moment. “Or not.” He pushed me under and tried to keep me there, but I went lower than he planned and he lost his grip. 

I came up in front of him. “Kissing a girl you aren’t engaged to? Joeté, I am positively ashamed.” I tilted my head to the side. “Especially without her permission.” I swung my left leg onto his shoulder and pulled myself up on them. Keeping my legs tightly locked, I fell backwards, pulling him down under with me. I straightened up and wrapped my arms around his neck. Not enough to cut off his air supply, but enough to keep him in my power. Before I could stop myself, I kissed his cheek. He looked bewildered, but whatever surprise he was feeling, it is nothing compared to the surprise inside of me. 

“Well Antepi. I didn’t think you would ever kiss a boy you weren’t engaged to. I am absolutely ashamed. And positively pleased.” He smiled and threw me over his head. He put me in the same headlock I just had him in and grinned. “My, how the tables have turned.” 

“They can keep turning, because,” I jabbed my elbow into his stomach and he leaned back. I slipped out of his grasp and ran, “I am obviously the better warrior.” 

He grabbed my hand that was trailing behind me and pulled me back in front of him. “Then why do I keep catching you?” 

“I told you I would take it easy on you, didn’t I?” I laughed, trying to cover up my nervousness at him being so close, and with everyone watching. 

I tried to step back a little, but I tripped and his other hand- the one not still holding my hand captive- instinctively moved to my back and caught me. I looked down at his hand holding mine, then back up at his face. I bit my lip and shook my head slightly, stepping back. He let me go, but the look on his face told me that he didn’t want to. 

“I can’t. Not now. Not yet.” I swam away and he didn’t chase me. 

We all went inside for lunch, and afterwards, everyone sat around talking. Hannah stayed down in the caves with her family so she could spend as much time with them before they left as possible. I had to admit, Melissa leaving was a little sad. I admired her for her ideas and her strong will against her family. But loyalty to family is better than anything else, and she was doing what she thought was best. And I could respect that. Hard as it was, I could still respect that. 

I tried to rest some more, but images of General Jeekis down in the caves haunted my dreams. I got up finally, giving up on trying to get any sleep. I hurried down to the caves and to his cell. I thought seeing him would make things better. 

“You look comfortable.” I observed. He was sitting on a bench with pillows laid over it. 

“Comfortable as I can be when I am in a cave, in winter, and my family is leaving me.”  He glared up at me. 

I shook my head. “That was your son’s choice. No one else’s.” 

“I taught him well, I believe.” He smiled viciously. 

“Anyone who thinks that by teaching their children to kill, they are teaching them well, is delusional.” I looked at him, trying to read his thoughts and figure out how a man could be so evil, and feel no regret.

“Then I am surely delusional. But I am proud of it. I succeeded in my life’s mission. To take down France’s best, elite force of warriors.” He snarled.

“No, Jeekis. You failed. You failed because you never took us down.” I looked into his eyes. “How can you be so horrible? So wrong? You never have destroyed us. We are still here, Jeekis. We are alive and we are thriving. How is that defeat?” I sat down on the opposite bench.

“Because you will disagree. You can not survive without a war to fight, so you will create one. You will make one, just so that you can have your life blood. But it will never be enough. And eventually, you will destroy yourselves, taking France down from the inside out, without any help from England.” He laughed harshly. “And that is defeat, Antepi. True defeat.” 

I shook my head. “We are fighting to end the war. Isn’t that everyone’s goal? To end it? Even England’s plan is to end the war.” 

“You are a warrior tribe. You live to fight. You live to destroy. And without a war, you have no place to take that out.” He shook his head at me. “Whether you wish it or not, Antepi, the end is coming for you. For all of France. This is only the beginning. England has only helped to start the fire. You will be the ones to make it a blaze.” 

I gripped the edge of the seat. I knew his words weren’t true, but the panic welling up inside me said otherwise. What if he was right? What if we really would be the ones to hurt France? “You’re a monster.” 

He laughed maniacally as I stood and started towards the door. “You can not stop it, Antepi. Nothing you do will prevent it.” 

I turned and looked back at him, calm and peace washing over me. I could almost feel the ice running through my veins. “Killing you would. But that isn’t how we work. Just remember who holds the power at the end of the day.” I turned and walked out.