Firelight
CHAPTER
2
Chapter 1
A week later...
The Amaryllis flowers were vivid against the dark bushes. The red petals matched my feelings. I was angry, furious even at how the events had unfolded. Everything had turned out as the hearth had said, I really was destined to fail. My tribal members had not yet soothed the aching feeling in my stomach. In fact, their reassurances did the reverse. When they told me in what I’m sure they thought was a comforting tone that everything would be alright. And that the hearth choose me for a reason, so not everything could go wrong. Because of this, they even left the seeking of the hearth in my hands. I had been obsessing for days, pondering everything that had happened. My tribe was confident that I would be the one to solve this conflict, so of course they weren’t worried. I was the only one awake at night, the only one holding in screams. I knew I was destined to fail, knew the hearth would be lost forever, and that I’d be exposed for the failure I was. None the less, I tried. I interrogated every adult in the village. All except for Mother Ethel. Though I was worried, and sure that I would be left in the dark, she was still a small glimmer of hope for me. She was my last chance. I tore my eyes away from the bush where I had been staring intently into its depths, and set off. It did not take me long to find her tent, partly because my feet were moving at their own accordance. My brain and its thoughts seemed so separate from everything else, it seemed impossible that the rest of my body was moving with it, let alone at its will. When I reached the tent flab, I drew a shallow breath. The feeling of something heavy soaring into my stomach stronger than ever before. Mother Ethel who had conveniently been standing, ready to pull open the flab gave me a steely gaze. Her solemn intelligent eyes boaring into mine, as grey met brown. The object in my stomach now made impact with a steady plop. Her thin hand closed around my wrist, her bones rubbing against mine. “I have not taken the hearth.” She stated bluntly, justering for me to sit. My heart seized its rhythm. “How did-“ “The question is not how I know of your intentions. Continue with your questions.” Though I had never started, I found it best not to argue. “Have you any idea who might have taken it?” “I do not.” She responded quickly. “Please!” I shrieked with obvious desperation. “Please, you must have some idea.” Mother Ethel looked for what felt like hours into my face, etched with worry and fear. “So young, so young.” She murmured, more to herself than me. She took my hand in hers, tracing the lines of my knuckles. Her sharp eyes alert and focused. “Do not underestimate the youth.” She said quietly, now tracing the lines of my hand. I felt a fresh surge of rage and disparity. I was begging her, tossing my dignity aside, and she wouldn’t help me. I was doomed. I pulled my hand from hers. A wild fire burning in my eyes. “Thank you for your time.” I replied, my voice sounding mechanic, almost robotic. I stormed out of the tent, forcing a bow in Mother Ethel’s direction. I flounced to where the fire had once been. There I might be able to gather my thoughts. Might be able to stop the unbearable pounding of my heart. Each step felt like an eternity as I headed in its direction. My eyes unfocused and still. When suddenly I felt something hard collide with my stomach, forcing me to the ground. My breath temporarily gone. A terrified voice shouted overhead. “Naia, my...my chief. I am so sorry!” A small thick hand grasped mine, pulling me upwards. I found myself staring into young, curious eyes. I stumbled away my vision clearing, revealing a boy with disheveled dark hair and a kind face. “It’s quite alright.” I assured him, briskly brushing the dirt and grime from my dress. He looks me up and down, his gaze hardening with each inch of me he takes in. He is clearly worried he has offended me in some way. I want to reassure him, but I’m not sure how. My head is too clouded with thoughts from the previous events. I stare from him to my now bedraggled clothing, Mother Ethel’s words like a whirlwind in my brain. “Do not underestimate the youth.” Suddenly, it became clear. The boy (who had obviously noticed a shift in my gaze) stared at me intently, slowly backing away. “You.” I scoffed, my eyes ablaze with fury and excitement. “My chief?” “You served me tea at Mother Ethel’s!” “I served you tea at Mother Ethel’s?” He repeated uncertainly. I remember it so clearly now. That nervous twitch, and those long nimble fingers. “You stole the hearth!” He looked me up and down, his gaze hardening with each inch of me he takes in. “No, I didn’t.” He murmured, staring at the earth beneath him. “Then you told someone about it.” “We are forbidden to speak of what we hear.” He pronounced bitterly. “Then you stole it. That’s the only alternative, and you did it!” He shifted his gaze from my feet to my eyes, an almost pleading look in them now. “I had to.” I stumbled backwards, my heart racing against my words. “No, you didn’t.” “Yes, I did. I...I had to make your destiny come true so that you would be exposed. You’re putting the tribe in danger! Once they saw that you could not find the hearth, your sister would be the new leader. And once she died, I would restore it.” I stared at him at a loss for words. “You...you...” I started, but I couldn’t find a retort harsh enough. “I apologize, Naia.” I couldn’t bear to look at him. I couldn’t bear to be near him. So, I ran. As far as I could, until I come to a clearing. My mind working feverishly. I couldn’t tell the tribe, not now. Then I’d have to explain his reasoning. I was trapped. I only had two options: not tell the tribe and procrastinate, only to have them find out in a few days time. Or tell them now, and face the repercussions sooner. As much as I wanted to do option one, I couldn’t. I knew that the longer I waited, the more severe the punishment for my actions would be. In the morning, I would reveal it all.
I walked over to my tribe, all of them were gathered together, sitting in a tight circle. I stared around at them all, they were so happy and innocent. I cleared my throat, and everyone went siloent. “I...I have an...an a-announcement to share with you all.” I stammered. “You’ve found the hearth!” Someone shouted out, a clear note of pride in their voice. “No n-not exactly. I was the...the cause for the theft.” I breathed. And with that I shared everything with them. Not allowing myself to make any eye contact with the various members. I was ashamed of what I’d done, and I prayed that they knew that. When I finally concluded, I forced myself to look up. Everyone’s face was frozen in shock, their eyes boldging, and jaw working furiously. “I am so, so sorry. I have done a horrible thing. I betrayed your trust, and put you all in danger.” My eyes find the boy who had been the cause for it all. I knew it was selfish, but I was hoping beyond hope that some disapproving glares would be upon him instead of me. But no one so much as glanced in his direction. To my surprise, it was not my mother or even my father who stood. It was Annika. I had never seen such a look on her face. Her sharp features were wrinkled in concentration and obvious disparity. “Naia.” Though she sounded sorrowful, her voice was still commanding. “It was me.” “No sister, it was me.” “Listen to me. All of it, all of it was my fault. I...I implanted a false vision in the fire. I wanted so badly to become leader, that I deceived you. I know you, and I know that when you latch on to something, much like me, you can’t let it go. I could see that you believed that you had the makings of a leader from the very beginning. The fire may have shifted your confidence, but not your heart. But, as you know, I never took the hearth. I wouldn’t sink so low as to do that.” She scowled, turning in the young boys direction. My mind was spinning uncontrollably. I was a good leader, I could really become someone. My sister had implanted the false vision and the boy had stolen the hearth. Both were criminals. Both deserved harsh punishments. But, I wouldn’t dare discipline them. Not now. Everything, for once, was together. All the threads connecting my life were firm. And I had a feeling that they would never break. Though, my tribe was angry, though they were skeptical, they still had (small as it may be) trust in me. I would never let them down again.

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