Kimi mounted the horse the young warrior brought her. He held its head as she vaulted onto its back. She recognised it as one of the ones the Prowling Lynx had stolen from her parents' ranch. A chestnut with a blaze down his face and four white socks. She had been particularly fond of this animal, and she delighted to be riding him on her way home, if by a roundabout way.
'I thought you would prefer to ride one of your own horses,' he told her.
She nodded and took the reins from him, gripped the horse with her knees and squeezed. The horse responded and trotted off after the others, who had rounded up the spare horses and had begun to herd them westwards.
Kimi became aware of the young warrior riding up beside her. They rode in silence for some time. Kimi looked sideways at him. She still felt that he looked frightening and became uncomfortable when he looked at her. True, he had promised to take her home as soon as he had delivered the thieves to his father, but could she trust him? Her experiences with the previous tribesmen made her anxious.
The young warrior, after riding alongside her for around an hour, suddenly broke his silence.
'My name's Davrael,' he said. 'What's your's?'
Kimi jumped, then told him her name. He smiled at her and she noticed his eyes for the first time. They were a soft brown and had a spark of humour in them, as well as a kindness. Perhaps he had a fearsome appearance, but somehow she knew that he had a soft side.
Little more was said during the rest of the day, then the band stopped by the side of a stream. They put the captives in one tent, still tied up, and erected a separate tent for Kimi. Davrael smiled at her as he held the tent flap back for her to enter.
'I'll bring you some food in a few minutes,' he said, and disappeared. Kimi unrolled the blankets left for her and sat down cross-legged on them to think about her situation.
Shortly, Davrael returned. He carried two bowls and wooden spoons. He sat down opposite her and handed her one of the bowls and a spoon.
'Sorry it's not better food,' he said, looking at his bowl, 'but we have only trail rations. We cooked dried meat to soften it, but it's not good.'
Kimi shrugged, looking at her own bowl. 'It's better than going hungry. I've eaten worse.' She began to scoop the food into her mouth and chew. The meat was tough, but it was nourishment and so she ate every last bit.
Neither of them spoke while they ate, then, after finishing, Davrael called to one of his men and handed him the bowls. He came back and sat down again. Kimi frowned. Why did he not go? He was not going to be like he other one, was he? Was he going to try to take advantage of her? At that thought, she shrank back a little.
Davrael noticed. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'I'm not a Lynx. The Swooping Hawks don't take advantage of vulnerable women. We have honour. Neither do we steal from others.'
Kimi sighed and resumed her position.
'Tell me about yourself and the Swooping Hawks, Davrael. I am from the Settled Tribes. We have forgotten much of the lives of the Wandering Tribes.'
'We have our own territories,' Davrael replied, 'and we stick to them. At least, the Swooping Hawks do. Other tribes don't always. When there is an infringement, the chiefs will usually try to settle it peacefully, but occasionally there is war.'
'I've heard that the Wandering Tribes are always fighting each other,' said Kimi.
Davrael shrugged. 'If war is needed to settle a matter, then we fight. Some tribes steal, horses or land, like those Lynx.' He spat in the direction of the tent where the Lynx were being held. He stood, and drew himself up to his full height, looking every inch the proud son of a Tribal Chief. 'The Swooping Hawks do not steal, but we will defend what is ours.'
He strode out of the tent, leaving Kimi alone.
Each day for the next sixday, Davrael rode at Kimi's side, and each evening he came to her tent to talk. He did not say much more than he needed to in order to answer Kimi's questions. She decided he was a man of few words. Then, he asked her about her own life. Kimi found herself beginning to like this young man more and more, She became used to the tattoo on his face, and it no longer frightened her. She smiled at the thought.
'What are ;you smiling at,' he asked her.
'Just that I wonder, now, why I was so frightened of you when we first met. I feel as if I've known you for ever, and we've always been friends.'
Davrael's eyes lit up when she said this. 'I'm glad you said that, Kimi. I feel that way too. We've always known each other.'
The ride continued over the plains. Grassland stretched away into the distance. They passed the occasional copse, and many streams. Once they had to cross a wide river at a ford. Davrael stuck to her side all the way until a camp appeared in the distance.
'My father's camp,' Davrael told her. 'Soon we'll be rid of these Lynx dogs and get them tried and condemned then I can take you home.'
What will happen at the camp of Davrael's father? How long will the trial take? And what are the feelings Kimi is beginning to feel for Davrael?
Find out on the first Tuesday of next month.