Betrayal Sacrifice Loss
The breeze coming off the Mediterranean Sea brought a hint of the coming storm with it.
Safia Meziane stood at the very top of the hillside overlooking the turquoise water, now
beginning to grow choppy as little fingers of wind touched the glassy surface. The knots in her
stomach tightened as she watched the water begin to churn. Ordinarily, she loved storms, but
she was uneasy, certain the weather heralded something much more sinister than lightning and
"I will never tire of this view," Amastan Meziane said, his gaze on the sea. "As a young
man, I would stand in this exact spot with my father and feel fortunate to live in this place."
"Just as I do," Safia admitted looking up at her grandfather.
Safia's family was Imazighen. Outsiders sometimes referred to them as Berbers. Her
family owned a very prosperous farm located up in the hills outside the town of Dellys. They
had extraordinary views of the sea and harbor. The farm kept a variety of animals, mainly sheep
and goats, harvesting the wool, spinning and dying it for clothes and rugs they sold at the local
market or sent with Safia's oldest sister's family across the Sahara to markets. Some of the
family members made jewelry and others pottery. All contributed to the success of the
household, farm and tribe.
Her grandfather, Amastan, was the acknowledged head of her tribe. Like her
grandfather, Safia had always felt very lucky to have been born into her family. To live where
she lived. To be raised on her family farm. She had two older sisters who doted on her and three
older brothers who always treated her as if she were a treasure, just as her parents and
grandparents did. They all worked hard on the farm. When her oldest sister, Illi, married and
left with her husband, Kab, no one resented the extra work. They were happy for her, although
Safia missed her terribly and looked forward to the times she returned from her travels.
Beside her, Amastan sighed. "Our family has had centuries of good years, Safia, and we
can't complain. We've always known this time would come."
He felt it too. It wasn't her imagination. Evil rode in the wind of that storm. It had
quietly invaded their farm. She had known all along but had done her best to tell herself it was
her wild imagination. The number of invasive insects had suddenly increased. Three weeks
earlier, she had begun to note tracks of an unfamiliar predator. One week ago, several had
eviscerated a goat near the cliffs. Whatever it was seemed to disappear into the ground when
she'd tried to follow it. There had been more than one, but she couldn't determine the number or
exactly what it was.
"I love the way Dellys looks, Jeddi, day or night. The blend of beautiful modern built so
close to the ancient ruins and the way the ruins are on the hillside facing the sea. I love the
sunrises and sunsets, and the sea with its colors and ever-changing mood, the markets, and
people. Dellys is so modern, and yet our history, our culture, is right there for everyone to see.
And on the hillside, evidence of our history remains. We're like that. Our family. Like Dellys.
So modern on the outside. Anyone looking at us would believe we're so progressive."
loved her life. Mostly, she loved the huge tribe she called family.
Safia didn't look at her grandfather, she kept her gaze fixed on the beauty of the sea. The
women in her family were well educated, unlike many females in other tribes. They spoke
Tamazight and Arabic, but along with that, they had learned French and English. Safia had been
required to learn an ancient language that none of the others had to master. Her grandmother and
mother were able to speak it and she had one friend, Aura, who was an expert in the language, so
she was fortunate to practice with her. Safia never questioned why she had to learn such an
ancient language no one spoke in modern times. When her grandfather or grandmother decreed
anything, it was done, usually without question.
Her grandfather believed they not only should expand their thinking, but he insisted his
daughters and granddaughters learn to use weapons and how to fight hand to hand combat just as
well as the males in the family. The women took care of the house, but they also worked on the
farm. They learned to do everything needed and were always treated as valued members of the
tribe. Their voices were heard when it came to solving problems. That was all very progressive
and different from tradition in many other tribes.
Her grandfather arranged marriages in the traditional way. His word was law. He held
the men they married to a very high standard. She couldn't imagine what would happen should
he ever find out his daughters or granddaughters were mistreated. Amastan appeared stern to
outsiders, but he was always quiet-spoken and fair. No one ever wanted to get him upset. It was
a rare event, but when it happened, he had the backing of the entire tribe, not that he needed it.
He was a force to be reckoned with.
"We must go inside, Safia. I told your father to call a family meeting. We can't continue
to put this off. You will read the cards, and I'll consult with the ancestors tonight. We need to
know exactly what we're facing and how much time we will have to prepare." He placed his
hand on her shoulder as if he knew she needed encouragement.
Her heart sank. All along, she had told herself the tales she'd been raised with were
simply fictional stories handed down for hundreds of years. They weren't real. Demons and
vampires didn't belong in a modern world any more than the myths and legends that had sprung
from the area where they lived did.
"I tried not to believe it, Jeddi," she confessed. "I've trained from the time I was a baby
to fight these things, but I still didn't believe. I read the cards daily, but I still didn't believe."
"You believed, Safia, or you wouldn't have trained so hard. You're very disciplined,
even more so than your mother or grandmother ever were. You work on the farm and at home
with your mother, but you never once shirked your training. You believed; you just hoped, as we
all did, that evil wouldn't rise in our lifetime."
She turned her head to look at her beloved grandfather. For the first time, she really saw
the worry lines carved in his face. There was unease in the faded blue of his eyes. That alone
was enough to make all the times her radar had gone off and the knots in her belly very real.
"When you were born," he continued. "We knew. Your grandmother, your mother and
father. I knew. I consulted the ancestors just to be certain. None of us wanted it to be true, but
the moment you came into this world, all of us could see you were different. You were born
with gifts." There was sorrow in his voice. "You were born with green eyes."
It was true, she was the only one in her family with green eyes, but why would that make
a difference? Still, she didn't question him. "I did prepare," she whispered. "But it feels as if it
can't be real, even now when I feel evil on the wind. When I know the accidents on the farm
were actual attacks on our family. I know these things, yet my mind doesn't want to process the
She turned back to look at the town of Dellys spread out in the distance. "All those
unknowing, innocent people living there. The restaurants. The shops. The market. I love the
market. Everyone is so unaware of danger coming. It isn't as if soldiers are attacking them, and
they can see the enemy coming. No one would believe us if we warned them. I wouldn't even
know what to tell them."
"You don't know what you're facing yet," Amastan pointed out, his voice gentle. "I've
told you many times, Safia, prepare but do not worry about something you have no control
over — something that may or may not happen. That does you no good. If you have no idea who
or what your enemy is and you dwell on it, you will make him much more powerful than he is."
She knew her grandfather was right. She trusted him. Throughout the years growing up,
she hadn't known him to be wrong when he gave his advice. He was always thoughtful before
he spoke, and she'd learned to take what he said to heart.
Once more she looked at the harbor. The port of Dellys was small, located near the
mouth of the river Sebaou and east of Algiers. Many of the men permanently living in Dellys
were fishermen, sailors, or navigators. The fishermen provided the fresh fish daily to the local
restaurants. The harbor was beautiful with the boats and lights, so modern looking. Everything
looked modern — so this century. Just by looking at the beauty of the harbor and the town, one
wouldn't imagine it had been around since prehistoric times.
"We must go in," Amastan reiterated. "The others will be waiting. Hopefully, Amara
will have fixed dinner for us, and it will be edible."
Amara was married to her oldest brother, Izem. Safia really liked Amara, who could not?
But she didn't understand how the match worked, yet it did, perfectly. Amara was a tornado
moving through the house and farm, one disaster after another. Through it all, her laughter was
contagious. She was bright and cheerful, always willing to pitch in and help, eager to learn every
aspect of farming. Clearly, she wanted to be a good wife to Izem, but her youth and exuberance
coupled with her total inexperience and clumsy energy sometimes were recipes for disasters.
At the same time, she was an amazing jeweler. One would think when she was so
clumsy around the farm, tripping over her own small feet, she wouldn't be able to make the fine
necklaces and earrings she did. Her artwork was exquisite and much sought after. She was an
asset to their family for that alone, but most importantly, because she made Izem happy.
Despite the two appearing to be total opposites, Izem was extremely satisfied with
Amara. He was a very serious man. He took after Amastan in both appearance and personality.
His name, meaning lion, epitomized who he was and what he stood for. He was always going to
be the head of his family. He was a man to be counted on, and maybe that was exactly why the
match worked so well. Amara needed the security of Izem, and he needed the fun and brightness
she brought him.
Safia loved watching her oldest brother and his wife together because she was a little
terrified of her grandfather choosing a husband for her. She knew several offers had been made
for her and he'd turned them down, stating she was already promised to another. He'd never
explained to her what he meant. She'd never met a man she'd been promised to in marriage.
Her father seemed to accept her grandfather's decree as did her brothers. No one ever
questioned her grandfather and for some reason, even on such an important subject, she couldn't
bring herself to either. Seeing Izem and Amara so happy made her feel as if there were a chance
she could find happiness with a man, a stranger, her grandfather believed would be the right
choice for her.
They walked together, side by side, through the field toward the house. "Your leg is
hurting," Amastan observed. "You were injured today."
She wasn't limping. She'd been careful not to show any signs of pain. Instantly she felt
shame. How could she possibly be ready to protect her family if Amastan could so easily read
her discomfort? Her enemies would be able to do so just as easily and take advantage during a
battle. All those years of training and she couldn't cover a simple injury?
"I'm not ready, Jeddi," she whispered. "If I can't hide a simple injury from you, how can
I defend the farm? Our family? The people in the town?"
He gave her his gentlest voice. "Yelli, I observed the tear in your trousers along with the
dirt and bloodstains. You have not given anything away by your actions or expression. It is the
condition of your clothes that tells me something happened."
"I did have a little accident today when I was herding the sheep in from the back pasture.
They were far too close to the cliff and very uneasy." It had been in the same area where those
strange tracks had been. She had been searching for them.
She didn't look up at him, but she felt her grandfather's piercing eyes on her, drilling into
her, seeing right past her casual tone to the truth.
"Safia?" He stopped abruptly in front of the house.
More than a question, it was an order. Reluctantly, she halted as well and forced herself
to look up at him, holding her gloves in front of her as if the thin leather could protect her from
his close scrutiny. His gaze moved over her, examining her inch by inch.
"It was no accident, any more than what happened to me or any of the others, Safia. We
can't pretend this away any longer. How badly were you injured?"
She pressed her lips together, reliving the terrifying moment when the dirt gave way on
the cliff, and she went over. She had clawed at the dirt, rock, and scraggly tree roots as she slid
over the side. It seemed to take forever before her fingers dug into the mud and roots, and she
gingerly found a grip with her fingertips. She clung there, legs dangling, heart pounding, head
resting against a tough rope of knotted wood.
Insects began to emerge from the mud, crawling toward her from every direction.
Stinging bugs flew around her hands and face. A hawk screamed and rushed out of the sky
straight at her. In that moment, she knew exactly what she faced and calm descended. She
forced air through her lungs, calling on her training to keep from panicking.
Evil had come to her family's farm. She couldn't deny it any longer as much as she
wanted to. She had known for the last three weeks the small "accidents" happening on their farm
were attacks against their family. She felt guilty that she hadn't been able to protect the animals
or her family members from the escalating violence. It was just that she had no idea how to stop
it because she wasn't certain how to fight what she couldn't see. Right at that moment, evil was
striking at her as if it knew she was the primary defender.
"I was more frightened than anything else. A few scrapes and bruises." She had dug her
toes into the rocks for purchase and reached with her mind for the hawk. She had
gifts — incredible gifts she'd been born with. Before that moment, she had thought it was just
plain cool that she had an ability to connect with animals, but the hawk turned away from her at
the last moment, pulling up sharply at her command.
"Lacerations," her grandfather corrected.
She nodded. "When I was climbing back up the cliff, there were a few jagged rocks
poking out. It really was more the scare of feeling the dirt give way under me, and then having
to admit to myself that all these little accidents haven't really been accidents at all."
Her grandfather continued to look at her.
She sighed. "I'm sore, shaken up, but really, nothing broken or sprained, so I got off
Her grandfather remained silent far too long, thinking her revelation over. There had
been too many small accidents lately. Both had become aware over the last few weeks
something was very wrong. Her father, too, had become suspicious. Even her brothers had
grown quiet and exchanged worried looks between themselves.
"You're certain all the animals are in for the night?" Amastan asked.
Safia nodded. "Usem and Farah brought in the sheep."
Her brother, Usem, and his wife, Farah, were fast at moving the sheep. She was certain
Usem had his own gift with animals. The animals seemed to respond to him, especially the
sheep. Usem, was the third to the oldest and like Izem was steady and a hard worker, but much
more inclined to laugh and take time to play pranks on his siblings. Farah was quiet and sweet,
her gaze following Usem lovingly. She was a very good cook and did her best to help Amara
learn. She treated Amara like a younger sister, welcoming her with open arms.
"Badis and Layla took care to round up the goats and get them into the shelters," she
continued, turning to survey what she could see of their land.
Layla was nearly as tall as Safia's brother, Badis. Layla was tall, confident, and
beautiful. There was very little she couldn't do. She excelled in combat just as she did in
keeping house and making rugs. She was also kind and showed endless patience toward Amara.
Safia's brother, Badis, and Layla were a wonderful match and were never far from one another,
especially now that Layla was pregnant.
Her grandfather laughed unexpectedly. "That left your sister, Lunja, and Zdan to round
up the chickens with their children."
Despite the gravity of the situation, Safia couldn't help smiling too. Her two nephews
and her niece loved the chickens. They spent quite a lot of their day chasing after them,
collecting eggs, naming the chickens, finding new nests, whatever they could interacting with
them. The chickens were given free range over the farm for the most part, only being brought in
at night when predators would attack and eat them. The children were very enthusiastic about
Zdan, Lunja's husband, was a great bear of a man, the largest in their family. He
certainly looked intimidating, or he would to an outsider. It was difficult to think of him as scary
when his children clung to his arms and legs, winding around him and riding on his shoulders
every chance they got. Lunja looked at him as if the sun rose with him every morning and for
her, it most likely did.
"I love my family so much, Jeddi," she whispered, more to herself than to her
grandfather. "I'm so afraid I can't protect them. My brain refuses to really acknowledge what's
happening because I worry I'm not up to the task. If something happens to any of you because I
failed to train hard enough..." she trailed off.
Throughout the years, she had considered her training fun. It was extremely difficult and
demanding, but she had fast reflexes that only sharpened as she got older. Every muscle and cell
in her body sang when she ran or climbed or when she picked up weapons or fought hand-to-hand.
"You are ready, Safia," Amastan confirmed. "You must have faith in yourself and in
your training. You were chosen. You have two older sisters, but the gift was not given to either
of them. It was given to you. You were born with the talents you have, Safia. You must know,
when you train with your brothers and father, when you did with your mother and grandmother
or with Aura, no one is faster or more intuitive than you are."
She took a deep breath and let it out before she nodded. "I just never believed it would
come to this."
"None of us wanted it to come to this, not in our lifetime, but it has, and we'll do
whatever is necessary to defeat our enemies, just as our people have done for over two thousand
years." He opened the door and waved her inside.
At once, Safia's stomach reacted to the delicious aroma filling the house. Amara had
been busy in the kitchen and her efforts filled the house with the inviting scent of one of the all-
time staples the family often relied on. Tajine was a delicious stew Safia particularly enjoyed
after a long day working in the field. She was suddenly very, very hungry. She knew Amara
had been trying hard to get the tajine just right.
Tajine was slow cooked with lamb or poultry as a rule. Vegetables, nuts, and sometimes
even dried fruits could be included. Spices such a ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric along with a
host of others were used depending on whether it was a vegetable, poultry, or lamb tajine.
Amara had trouble with the spices, sometimes dumping all kinds into the stew, or trying to make
it first sweet and then savory, but she hadn't given up, determined to master the craft of cooking.
Amara had made loaves of bread to go with the tajine, and the one thing she was very
good at was baking bread. Couscous was the dessert — her grandfather's favorite. Amara often
struggled with couscous as well. Safia knew it was important to her that she get that right.
Amastan never said anything when the dessert was doughy or overly sweet. Although Amara
laughed at herself, it was obvious to Safia she was disappointed if the meal wasn't good. Safia
hoped this one would be the one to turn things around for Amara.
One by one, family members washed and gathered to eat together. After prayers, there
was much laughter as the hot stew was served up in bowls of clay their ancestors had made. This
was one of Safia's favorite times of day. She knew it wasn't the same for all other families, but
in hers they were encouraged to talk to one another, to laugh and share their day.
She recognized Amastan's wisdom encouraging family members to give input on the
farm, the gardens, livestock and even the children. Her brothers had secured land around the
original farmland handed down through generations, adding to the flourishing tribal business.
The livestock was healthy, the soil was rich, and every member of the family meticulously
worked to produce beautiful rugs, carpets, pottery, jewelry and clothing for sale. Many of their
items were sent with her eldest sister, Illi, and her husband, Kab, across the Sahara to the markets
in the Middle East. Kab's family was one of the few very familiar with the Sahara Desert and
the places one could find water.
Kab's family were also artisans. Illi had been welcomed into their family, not just
because she had caught Kab's eye, but she knew the old ways of making pottery and her work
was sought after. Their grandmother had handed down the history and designs that went back
centuries. Illi not only had the skills but could pass those skills and her knowledge on to new
Safia realized just how difficult her grandfather's job as head of the tribe as well as head
of the family really was. Choosing others to bring in when they had so many secrets had to be
extremely challenging. She looked around the table and realized just how carefully Amastan had
chosen those he allowed into their inner circle.
The newcomers had to be loyal and willing to keep secrets. They had to train every day
to fight as both modern and ancient warriors. Anyone coming into their family would have to fit
their personality into a unit already tight-knit and learn to accept their very different ways. It
wasn't an easy ask. Every one of the chosen brides had done so, as had Zdan, Lunja's husband.
It was unusual for the man to choose to come to his wife's family rather than for her to go
to his. Zdan's family had become very small. His two sisters had married and left home. His
parents were dead. One aunt remained and he offered to bring her with him, but she had
adamantly refused. He checked on her daily. She was very set in her ways. Safia knew Zdan's
aunt would never have accepted Amastan as head of the family. He wasn't traditional enough.
Safia couldn't help noticing how anxious Amara looked as everyone began eating the
tajine. Twice Amara's gaze went to Izem's and he shifted slightly toward her, giving her a
reassuring smile. Deliberately, Safia took a spoonful of the stew, expecting it to be a little better
than the last time Amara had made it, but this time, it was far, far better. The blend of spices was
Safia looked across the table at Amara, unable to keep the huge smile from her face. She
didn't want to make a big deal about the fact that the tajine was so good because that might
embarrass Amara and point out all the times she had failed.
"Charif," Amastan said with a false frown. "Are you already finished with your first
serving? Leave some for your elders."
Charif looked up at his father, puzzled, with a spoon half-way to his mouth. Zdan ruffled
his hair and leaned down to whisper in an overly loud voice. "I have a much longer arm, Charif.
I'll get you extra helpings."
Mock fighting over the stew was the perfect way to convey to Amara that she had gotten
it right and everyone was devouring her efforts gratefully. Safia once again noted the exchange
between Amara and Izem. This time there were tears in Amara's eyes she hastily blinked away
and pride on Izem's face. He smiled at her lovingly. The look her eldest brother gave his young
wife was enough to make her wish, just for that moment, that she wasn't so alone, especially
now, when she faced something evil, and her family depended on her to lead the defense against
She felt her father's gaze on her, and she sent him a small, what she hoped was a
reassuring smile. When her mother was alive, Gwafa Meziane had laugh lines around his
startling blue eyes and a ready smile for his six children. He teased his mother and wife
continually but was his father's constant companion and advisor. He worked harder than any
other on the farm. He was loving toward his children, but when it came to teaching them to
wield weapons and defend themselves, he was every bit as fierce and demanding as Amastan,
her grandmother and mother and even her friend, Aura.
Since the death of her mother, Gwafa's laugh lines and smile had faded. Several of the
"accidents" on the farm seemed to have been directed at him and Amastan, but the majority were
definitely aimed at Safia. He'd grown even quieter, and he and Amastan had taken to staying up
long hours into the night talking. She lay in her bed and stared up at the ceiling or paced back
and forth in her room, wondering if she should reach out to her closest friend, Aura, while her
father and grandfather were whispering in the other room.
She couldn't talk about her fears to her family, not when they would have to depend on
and look to her for guidance. It didn't matter that she was the youngest of the six siblings. She
had been born with the "gift". Amastan had decreed it was so. Her grandmother and parents
concurred. That meant she carried that burden whether she thought she could or not.
"We have many things to talk about before night falls," Amastan announced once the
dishes were cleared. "Everyone needs to gather close."
Dread filled Safia as they adjourned to the wide-open room they preferred, where they
could sit in front of the open fire on the carpets woven by their ancestors. There was a
connection always felt from past to present. Safia found it comforting to be in the room with her
family, sitting on the carpets surrounded by other keepsakes from those who had gone before
her. She felt their presence stronger than ever, as if they were there to give her courage.
Amastan waited until everyone had settled comfortably and looked up at him expectantly.
So many nights this had been storytelling time. This had been a favorite time for everyone as
they gathered together to hear stories handed down for generations. Children sat on laps and
listened with wide eyes. Safia remembered sitting on her mother's lap and snuggling close to her
father's side when Amastan regaled them with tales of brave men and women defending their
lands from invaders.
They were Imazighen, free people and very peaceful, but they would defend themselves
fiercely when needed. They were proud of who they were and with their last breath would
always declare to the world they were Imazighen.
"All of you studied the history of our country and are aware that many wars have taken
place here. One of the most significant for our family was one that started with the continual
political wars as one faction after another invaded Algeria. In 17 to 24 AD the Romans invaded.
They cut a road right across the migration route. Where there was once wild grass to feed
livestock, there were fences to keep out the nomad's flocks from wheat the Roman's needed for
Safia knew a little of the history of that war, but there had been so many invaders.
"An entire way of life was disrupted. The Romans sought to take the tribal lands and
divide them up for settlers," Amastan continued. "The free people rebelled. The fighting became
quite fierce, and those living here refused to bow down to outsiders. As Imazighen, we do not
accept the dictates of any other."
Amastan paused for a moment and looked around the room at his family. "Had the tribes
been fighting only humans, the battle would have been won very quickly, but that was not the
case. It was not mere mortals our ancestors fought. The underworld chose that time to enter our
world and turned neighbor against neighbor, sending an army of vampires and demons mixing
with the invaders from Rome."
An icy shiver crept down Safia's spine. She glanced out the window. The sun was
beginning to sink, and small fingers of fog began to drift in from the sea. The gray fingers looked
like bones long dead and pointing straight at their farm.
"Our male ancestors have gifted us with their presence and wisdom. They share, through
the elders, advice, and knowledge. Through the female side, handed down for centuries, we have
been given the wisdom and direction of the cards. The gift of reading is given to only one
female in the family. She not only holds the power and responsibility of the cards, but should the
demons rise to attack again, she must lead us to slay them. Without her, this will be impossible."
All eyes turned to Safia. She heard Amara gasp and then hastily cut off the sound.
Glancing up, she could see that Amara had her hand over her mouth and was leaning into Izem.
Amastan's sharp gaze was on her as well. "Amara," his voice was gentle. "You have
known of this almost from the day you married Izem."
She nodded. "That is true, Jeddi, but it wasn't real to me. Lately, I've felt the presence
of evil, but even with that, I've done my best to ignore it. I often spoke to Izem, urging him to
speak with you and Eemmi about finding Safia a husband. It didn't seem right that we were
happy, and she had no one. She loves children and she works harder than any of us. Because
fighting something we can't see and that the family would send her out to fight unknown evil
entities didn't seem real to me, I just wanted someone very special for her. Now, it feels like
we're all abandoning her. Forgive me, Jeddi, but I don't understand."
Amastan's expression remained gentle. Safia loved him even more for the way he had
always allowed every family member to ask questions and share opinions. That had been a
difficult concept for Amara, and Safia knew it had to have been very hard for her to express her
concerns, especially in front of the entire family and Safia.
"It's natural for you not to understand completely, Amara. You weren't raised from
childhood with the knowledge those born into this family have. Perhaps it was already imprinted
on us for our family to accept these ideas so easily. I have never asked the ancestors this, but it is
a good question. I admire you for caring so deeply about Safia, but I assure you, she is spoken
It was Safia's sister, Lunja, who questioned their grandfather next. "Jeddi, I have heard
you express this on more than one occasion, that she is promised, and you would never say this
unless it is true, but we are now in a dire situation, and she will need all the help she can get. If
that is so, where is he?"
"He will come, Lunja. You must have faith. He is a great warrior."
It was Izem, her oldest brother, who brought up what Safia worried about the most. "Is
this wise, Jeddi? Bringing an unknown into a complicated battle and having Safia get used to a
relationship that will need time to develop? She is used to coping on her own with just us. If
this man decides to take over and has his own strategy, it may well throw her off balance."
Ordinarily, Safia would have had several questions of her own, but it was nice to have
family members addressing the concerns for her. Her heartbeat stayed steady, under control, a
win for her. She'd trained hard to keep her heart and lungs functioning under every
circumstance. The accident in the afternoon that had sent her plunging over the cliff had shaken
her confidence in her abilities for a brief period of time. She'd lost that control, sending her
brain into chaos. She had to be able to always think, no matter what was going on around her.
"You raise a legitimate concern, Izem. Gwafa and I worried about the same thing many
times. We prepared Safia as best we could. She knows many of the customs of his people and
she speaks his language."
The breath caught in Safia's lungs. A stunned silence filled the room. She pressed a
hand to her throat in an effort to stay grounded. For a moment she couldn't feel her own flesh.
"He doesn't speak our language? He has different customs?" Izem echoed. "Are you
saying this man you have chosen for our sister is not a member of our tribe? He is not
Imazighen?" He looked to his father and then back at his grandfather. "You would have Safia
leave our family? Our tribe?" He was shaking his head even as he spoke, rejecting what his
He wasn't the only one. Her brothers and sister were also indicating a strong disapproval
of the choice selected for their sister. It was extremely rare for anyone to disagree to such an
extent with Amastan, and never over an arranged marriage.
Safia had never considered that she would be sent away from her family, especially since
she had been trained to protect them. She had the family cards. She had spent her entire
childhood, her teens, her early adulthood training to fight, to hone her skills. She'd been devoted
to her family. She couldn't believe her grandfather would arrange a marriage to an outsider. It
felt like a betrayal.
"Jeddi." It came out a choked whisper. She turned to her father, knowing she wasn't
successful at hiding the shocked horror on her face. She did feel as if her father and grandfather
had deceived her all these years. They had known they were going to send her away and yet they
had demanded the long grueling hours of training from her. They had forced her to accept her
fate as the defender of her family and she had done so willingly.
This felt like sheer treachery. Disloyalty. It didn't just feel that way, it was betrayal. Her
parents and grandparents had treated her as if she were special to them, and yet they would send
her away with a perfect stranger, someone not even of their tribe, not of their people. Worse,
they would do so after she risked her life to save them.
Even Illi's marriage was closely monitored to ensure she was treated with kindness,
acceptance, and love. Her husband was Imazighen. Once Safia was married to this stranger, her
family would have no say in how he treated her. If he took her away from them, they would
never know if he beat or even murdered her.
Still, with all that, she had the years of love and kindness her father and grandfather had
shown to her. Could they really have betrayed her in such a terrible way? Amastan stated
plainly that she was to marry outside their people. She had to get away from everyone, go
somewhere to think. She couldn't breathe properly. She had to leave. Pushing up with one
hand, she managed to get to her feet. All the years of training made her look good, calm, steady.
"I can't stay here right now. I must leave."