She came to floating on a river of thoughts and memories that were disconnected and too real, or a raft made of groggy emotion. The world worked to gain existence around her, but all too slowly for her liking.
I might be dying.
She tried to open her eyes and found they were heavier than expected. Most of her brain wanted her to keep them shut and go back to sleep but, stubbornly, she opened them anyway. What did her brain know? She couldn’t be asleep in dangerous territory.
Her eyes landed on Thunuk. Above her.
The Hunter was being carried in another’s arms.
What are you doing?
She realized she had not spoken. She tried to, but her throat bulged abruptly, making her cough instead. That called his attention, and he looked down at her.
“Zaniyah, thank the ancestors! Do not worry, we are saving you.”
Her body finally came back to her mind with a status report. Both arms were hugging the bloody cape she had used as bandage around her belly, and the amulet inside it. Her legs were numb and being propped up by Thunuk’s other arm. She was bleeding a bit from her shoulder, but the rest had been properly bandaged. In as much as one could manage to do while being in a hurry to escape.
“Let me go.”
She spurred her body to move along with her request but the whole thing just shot back alarmed protests, in some cases with tiny jabs of pain or sore, and did not move. A couple of fingers rebelled with a tremble, but that was it. Only her head showed any obedience, leaning forward, intent and not really used to care about what the rest of the body feels like doing.
“I will not,” Thunuk stated. All comedy was gone from his tone of voice. The joviality, the young joy, it had given way to a stricter sense of resolve.
“How dare you.” Unfortunately, her head decided to betray itself by falling back on his arm. It deeply annoyed her.
“Sorry I did not ask for permission,” Thunuk told her, “but you are a beast brain, you do not care for yourself.”
“I have cared for myself my entire life,” she offered as a rebuttal.
“That is impressive. You were never baby, then?”
She turned her head, putting what strength she had in glaring back at him, angry.
“You can kill me later, mighty Zaniyah,” he smirked at her with a glance, a sliver of his joy showing up, if only to show it wasn’t gone but just tucked away in light of the circumstances. “When you are able to.”
The fact he used when instead of if made her drop her hostility. She was too tired, anyways.
“Are we safe?”
“Not yet. But your leader is making sure.”
She turned her head away from Thunuk and caught sight of the Zoo Keeper’s back.
“He is not the leader.”
“He seems to think he is.”
“What? Did he say…”
“Oh no,” Thunuk corrected, “the way he moves. He is a protector.”
That was fair enough to state. The tribal leader was supposed to be the tribe’s main protector and the Zoo Keeper, with his affinity for protecting all his animals, would certainly carry that poise.
The Hunter thought back to the Zoo Keeper’s appearance. In her mind, killing the armored man would have been a kindness when compared to what happened to him. How much of a protector was he, really, to be able to do something like that?
She wiggled her toes just to make sure she wasn’t paralyzed.
“You will be okay, Zaniyah.”
She turned her head to look at Thunuk, he was staring straight ahead, sharp and cautious.
“I need to walk on my own.”
“We all need things,” he told her, “I need you to live. I cannot marry you otherwise.”
Zaniyah squinted her eyes and shivered in his hold, but it didn’t dissuade him.
“Mother would never approve marrying corpse.”
“A corpse of me is all you—” she was interrupted by a cough but continued unrelenting in her insult. “–you will ever get to marry, Thunuk”
“Father would never approve marrying stronger woman than I,” he smirked back at her with a glance, purposefully ignoring the insult, “but father is old. Spends his days smoking frogs, he knows very little at all anymore.”
Her ears as if opened up completely then, bringing her the sounds of battle and of people yelling in the distance, and of things breaking and shattering, all of it vividly around her and giving no signs of dissipating.
Thunuk had been pulling her focus thus far, however.
“He thinks the Moon is the butt of the Sun.”
He never shut up.
“Can you imagine that? Having a father who thinks night comes because the Sun is looking the other way?” He never let up. She was convinced he never would.
So the Hunter relented. She allowed her neck to relax as her head turned to rest on Thunuk’s forearm. She felt so light in his arms she was afraid she really wouldn’t survive.
“I am from jungle, yes, but even I know Sun is ball of fire. Just have to look at it.”
Not wanting to have Thunuk’s chest fill up her view, she closed her eyes. She also realized then, with her hearing restored, that they had been whispering to each other, she had not managed to raise her voice at all during their exchange.
“Can you imagine if Sun was eye? There would be no privacy outside. I cannot imagine. My favorite thing to do when I am free is to get naked on lake. And lie on grass and see stars.”
Zaniyah not only felt like all the blood was gone but also her muscles. She felt way too light for comfort.
“My father thinks stars are product of gassy farts. Of the butt,” he chuckled. “He is crazy, my father. The frogs have made him crazy.”
In truth, she felt too comfortable for comfort.
“I will show you one day,” he promised, “after we marry.”
“Nothappening,” she mumbled, aware the second later she had done so in the common language, international and unknown to him.
“Sshh, save your mighty strength, mighty Zaniyah.”
“Thunuk,” a voice from ahead came, a leading tone. “Ssh.”
Thunuk nodded with his body and silenced himself.
With that, came her biggest surprise.
She did not feel relieved as Thunuk’s voice disappeared from her blind surroundings, which then became vividly war-focused. She heard yelling nearby, beasts roaring as they lunged into action, but Zaniyah was too numbed. She had been lulled into weakness and as embarrassing as it was…for once, she could not find the will to fight it.
With her forehead brushing against another’s skin, her body fully in his grasp and control as the battle raged around her, dangerous, she did what she never had, in her wildest dreams, imagined doing. Much less in such a perilous situation as she was in.
The Hunter relaxed.
And breathed easy.