Nadroj, Binder of Nations
There is nothing to her. She’s neither pretty nor ugly.
“Your father has five minutes,” I say holding up five grotesquely swollen, useless fingers.
“My father cannot heal you,” Nadroj says.
The wind blows her sandy-brown hair across her face. Nadroj, the pronunciation of her name sounds as mediocre as her lack of beauty. Nadroj, Binder of Nations, the kingdom of Isra call her. The Isra God is either a fraud or unimaginably powerful for placing such hope in such a homely, skinny girl.
“Cannot heal?” I say and move toward her in a calculated rage but stumble on a pebble.
My vision casts down to my swollen feet. Out of the corner of my eyes, I see my tribesmen glare at me, their weak chief. Had I not killed Jamis last year in the Trial of Chiefs, Sucsam, and Madas would have killed me as soon as the disease infected my right hand. I hear their whispers and see their gloating.
Regaining my balance, my composure, and controlling my frustration, I say, “Your father, the Great Elisa cured the entire Kingdom of Isra. For seven hundred years, Sria and Isra have been enemies, but he will cure me or you will die.”
The wretch’s body doesn’t portray a hint of dread. What kind of a poor excuse for a chief have I become that I cannot scare a little girl? As she raises her head, the wind blows her hair away from her face. If it weren’t for her Isra god I would send her to be with my concubine. Her green eyes compensate for her plain features.
“The doctor approaches! Alone!” Dadben shouts.
Yes, I have to concentrate to see the lone rider. The mid-day sun and this fever blur my vision.
“If anyone is with you, I will kill your daughter,” was the message I sent to Elisa, and Naam, my loyal tribesman, died delivering that message. Does Elisa have a cure with him or will he play another Isra trick?
“Your father, no?” I ask, wanting to say more, but the heat and the pain..
“Papa!” she cries and teardrops flow from her beautiful green eyes like rain in the bamboo forest between Sria and Isra .
“Weep child. All the tribes of Sria have suffered more than you can imagine, because of your Isra deceit,” I say.
“They forced him,” she lies.
If I weren’t so weak, I would strike her down with the back of my hand. But she hasn’t shown signs of fear since we kidnapped her. She makes me look even more like a weakling in front of my tribesmen.
“Papa,” she squeals, but Sucsam and Madas grab her tighter as her father’s pony trots into our perimeter. As clumsy as the ass he rides, the Great Elisa jumps off of his pony and stumbles to the ground. What a thin, pathetic man. A weak god chooses weak servants. No bags, no packs, no Isra tree leaves, no Isra tree limbs, does he think me a fool?
“Where is the medic—?” every time I speak my throat constricts and dries.
I will be dead within the week.
He reaches in his white jacket. One sword across his throat, another on his chest, and another pointed in his back. Hadad’s arrows are ready to fly, my tribesmen tense. The gods of war protect us.
Elisa stretches out his pale hand and presents a yellow capsule. His eyes bounce back and forth from me to the capsule. That is not the medicine I need. One doesn’t rise to chief among the Aramen, the greatest tribe in all Sria, without the skills to read a man.
My hands are too swollen to hold the capsule. “Dadben, let me see it!” I say, with renewed frustration at Elisa’s Isra deceit.
Dadben, my most trusted, snatches the capsule from Elisa’s dirty palm and holds it close to my eyes, and says, “It’s poison, Chief?”
Sometimes, his fervent loyalty makes him illogical. He cannot calculate that Elisa has come of his own accord.
I know through my grotesque features, Elisa perceives my wisdom. The Isra we captured told us that the medicine is a natural origin not a capsule, but no matter our interrogation techniques, they would not tell us the exact source.
Dadben shouts “Let’s kill him!” the way I taught him, instilling fear in the captive and anticipating the aggression in our tribesman. Premature, but he is learning.
“No,” my voice is a coarse whisper. “He must see his daughter die first. Bring her closer.”
Brave child. She doesn’t struggle.
Elisa looks at her and with pale, pitiful eyes, and says, “You must..”
“Our Lord,” she interrupts.
“He has forsaken us,” he says.
“He is always with us,” she says.
By the wrath of Armmir, The head God of all the tribesmen of Sria, their senseless babble grows on my patience. Their lord chooses the weakest followers.
I can’t hold a sword. “Dadben,” he must prove to Sucsam and Madas that he is a ruthlessness leader in case this disease takes me.
Dadben swings his sword above his head ready to slice her in half, but she doesn’t fear. I don’t have time to play games with this weak Isra doctor and his stubborn daughter, but I need healing, or I will lose my power. See if your Isra lord will save you now.
“Wait, Dadben. The sword is too swift. She will suffer like me. Bring her to me.” These were simple commands I used to order to prove my authority over my tribesmen, but now I am too weak for these minimal tasks.
The disease does not affect everyone the same. Either way, I will rub my filthy, swollen hands all over her. Like his little daughter, Elisa cries and mumbles some mantra to his Isra lord.
I move her dirty, Isra sand-colored hair from her face and touch her cheek. Brave, this child, the sword nor the disease scare her. Nadroj’s mother must have been a woman worthy of a chief. I can almost feel her smooth skin. My memories of the women’s hair I’ve touched in our conquests deceives me. Her hair feels soft against my unworthy skin. Her green eyes burst into red flames, and her soft hand reaches up to my grotesque face.
I hear Dadben, Sucsam, and Madas, and the others shouting, but her touch relieves my pain. With dexterity, I make our tribe’s hand motion for them to stand down.
The boils under my eyes shrink so that I witness my fingers transform from rot brown to the darker complexion of the tribes of Sria. I feel Nadroj’s palm on my cheeks. My skin feels tight, and my bones feel new like a young tribesman training for the Trial of Chiefs.
“Hadad! Your shield!” I shout.
The arrogant archer never carries his shield into battle.
As I look at my reflection in Hadad’s shield, Suscam, and Madas stare in disbelief. Drained, Nadroj has fallen on the ground.
“How is this?” I ask.
“After King Learsi commanded me to mix the Aramen Disease, one of your tribes attacked our kingdom forcing the king to prematurely, and against my counsel, release the disease. Many of our people also contacted the disease, but The God of Isra was displeased with our king and he blessed Nadroj with the Gift of Healing, fulfilling the prophesy, Binder of Nations,” Elisa says.
Healed by the Lord of Isra.
For the first time in months, I take my sword from its sheath and walk over to Nadroj, who remains kneeling on ground. The Lord of Isra has used this homely girl to heal me.
I hold the sword that I have won so many times in the Trial of Chiefs, lift it above my head, kneel, gaze into her green eyes, and toss the Sword of Chiefs on the ground in front her.
“For seven hundred years we have inflicted pain upon each other. I, Aram, the chief of the greatest tribe in Sria, give you my sword to use as you will, Nadroj, Binder of Nations.”
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James E. Guin
James E. Guin’s fiction has appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, Daily Science Fiction, Perihelion Online Science Fiction Magazine, T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog, and The Story Shack. He received an Honorable Mention in the 2nd Quarter of the 2014 L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest and second place in Jenny Magazine Speculative Fiction Contest 008. For more information about James E. Guin please visit jameseguin.wordpress.com