He may have been a mere forager, but his back was covered in scars. As rumors went, he was found as a child in the remains of the Red Village, alone and covered in blood.
In the Yellow Village, all talk was considered fact.
Mayra stared as he tossed his shirt on the riverbank and plunged into the clear water. Hagen elbowed her. “You’re too good for him.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m too good for you, yet we share the same blood.”
Her brother stood like a statue overlooking the villagers on wash day. Mayra wanted to push him in the water, but there was half a chance she’d end up dowsed instead. Keeping her pride, she stripped down to her undergarments and waded into the river as the chief’s daughter was expected to.
A hoarse cry rang out over the pounding waterfall.
She dunked her clothes in the water, all the while keeping an eye on her people, especially the outsider. He was swimming dangerously far downstream, mere paces from the edge of the great waterfall. The current didn’t seem to bother him. If anything, it was hardly a challenge.
A hoarse cry rang out over the pounding waterfall, followed by a scream and cries of “Galgi! Galgi!”
Mayra glanced to see the creatures gliding overhead from the direction of the waterfall. From a great height, they might have been mistaken for birds, having the same general shape, except these creatures were tawny and with coarse, leather-like hides. Their beaks were long and pointed, contrasted by a rounded horn on the back of their heads. And they were huge, their wingspans three times the height of the village’s tallest man.
She had never seen one so close. Their shapes made her think of the tales of dragons, only the galgi were real and, therefore, much worse.
“Everybody to cover!” Hagen waved his arm, directing the villagers.
They scrambled for shore and into the forest seconds before the galgi passed overhead. Even the outsider ducked beneath the trees. Mayra held her breath as mothers, children, and the elders struggle to get to shore. But one beast circled back. Then another. Then the entire group of nearly twenty wheeled around, spotting the stragglers.
Mayra dropped her clothes and rushed to help just as the first galgi swooped down and pecked at an elder with its massive beak. The man collapsed before rest of the horde dove.
Hagen waved at her from the tree line. “Mayra, no!”
She plunged toward the fray, pulling a child out from beneath one snapping beak and dodging another. She thrust the child toward shore and reached for another but slipped on the rocks and plunged underwater. She came up, gasping for breath. A beak snapped at her. Somebody jerked her backward.
She got one glimpse at the scarred outsider before a beak stabbed him in the shoulder, and another knocked him over. He floated downstream, face down. Mayra swam after him. But he was floating too far, too fast. He disappeared over the waterfall.
She came up, gasping for breath. A beak snapped at her.
Mayra angled herself towards the rocks overlooking the falls, scrambled atop them, and looked down. Having finished their work upstream, the galgi were circling overhead again. Mayra rubbed her bare arms, and taking a deep breath, jumped off the waterfall.
She pure wind beneath her, as though she was now the predator, and plunged into the freezing pool. When she came up, she found the scarred stranger. He’d turned himself over and paddled toward the shore on-handed. Mayra swam up to him, slipped an arm around his bloodied shoulder, and together they swam to shore. The galgi fished out the remaining bodies.
Hagen met them at the tree line, and as the rest of the villagers followed. Mayra helped the outsider sit, turned to the villagers, and raised her voice. “From now on, we shall wash beneath the falls. And we shall establish a watchman to prevent future attacks.”
Hagen frowned. “There aren’t enough shallows downstream. Not everybody can swim.”
“We’ll make do.”
He lowered his voice. “You are not the future chief.”
He wasn’t an outsider anymore, but she couldn’t remember his name.
She crossed her arms. “I didn’t see you do anything.”
He opened his mouth to argue, then closed it. He turned to the villagers and elaborated on Mayra’s plan. There were more than monsters to deal with in the wild world. She let out a breath, sat next to the outsider, and ordered somebody to bind his shoulder. He wasn’t an outsider anymore, but she couldn’t remember his name.
“Weren’t you afraid?” she asked.
“Of course.” He traced one of the scars on his uninjured shoulder. They looked like his new injury, albeit pale and clean. “I’ve seen monsters like that wipe out my first home. But I couldn’t let that stop me.”
Mayra gave him a smile, then saw to the rest of her people.
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