He had taken quite a liking to the young girl and had ask her if she wanted to ride with him when he had noticed her moving to walk near him as they traveled. He had also noticed she was a quick study, having already caught her first rabbit with his instruction.
"Nona!" Chumani said, approaching her daughter and Vin. "I need you to help me."
Nona sighed disappointingly as she followed her mother to help prepare a light meal. Chumani smiled at Vin, but he noticed it was guarded. Vin returned Chumani's smile warmly, trying to show her he meant Nona no harm.
After the group had eaten and rested, they prepared to get underway again. Nona started to head back to Vin when Chumani stopped her.
"Walk with me for a while," she said.
Nona pouted but obeyed her mother. They walked in silence for a while before Chumani spoke to Nona.
"There is something of great importance that I must tell you," she began. Nona looked at her mother.
"What is it?" she asked.
"It is about your father," Chumani answered, looking forward and not at Nona.
Nona frowned. She knew her father was white, but that was all she knew. Her mother would never speak of him. She had only told Nona that he had come around the time of the massacre. Chumani glanced at her daughter, and seeing her expression quickly told her of the past and how Nona had come to be.
Nona could feel herself become ill as she listened to her mother's words. Her father was not only responsible for many of the deaths in the attack, but had also violently raped Chumani, creating her in the process.
"Why have you told me this?" Nona asked, devastated by this revelation.
"Because....I want you to be aware of what the white man is capable of," Chumani said, looking at Vin. Nona followed her gaze then turned to her mother.
"Vin would NEVER do anything like that!" Nona said coming to her new friend's defense.
"I didn't say HE would....but others of his kind will," Chumani answered. "Do not misunderstand Nona. Vin is Kohana's friend and would never have been allowed in the village, much less on the hunt if he was not honorable and pure of spirit."
Nona walked in silence for a moment before speaking to Chumani.
"Mother........do the people know how....." She stopped unsure of how to phrase her question. "Do they know how you came to be with child? With me?" she stammered. Chumani looked at Nona.
"Not at first. I was not the only woman to be taken," she began, "But when I discover I carried you, I thought you were of Tokala's spirit."
Nona nodded. She knew of Tokala, her mother's husband who was killed in the massacre. She remembered how Chumani had told her of the white man who had taken Tokala's most valued possesion....his hunting knife given to him at his manhood ceremony by his father. Realization struck Nona like skyfire from the heavens.
"He's the one!" she said. "The one who took the knife! He is my father??"
Chumani nodded sadly with the memory. As she looked over to Nona, she could see an expression of shame and self-loathing spread across her features. Chumani felt a stab of pain in her heart. It had not been her intention to cause Nona to feel this way. She only wanted her to be wary of the white man and his ways.
"Little one.....do not feel sorrow" Chumani said tenderly.
Nona looked at her mother.
"You are a gift....given to us so we could be made whole again," Chumani said to Nona, trying to express to her all she meant to her and the tribe.....and now it seemed Vin as well.
Nona smiled at Chumani, trying to show she understood. But the
fact was, Nona was crushed to learn of her beginnings. A symbol of
hope? Of rebirth? She couldn't believe this.
Nona trudged on the rest of the day, plagued by what her mother had told her. When the group stopped to camp, Vin noticed a change in the girl.
After the evening meal and everyone had bedded down for the night, Vin found Nona sitting alone by the fire.
"Hey there," he said sitting next to her.
Nona glanced over at him then back to the fire. Vin became worried suddenly. Something was wrong.
"What is it?" he asked concerned.
"Nothing....I'm just tired" Nona replied.
As Vin looked at her, a single tear ran down her cheek. Nona stared at the fire as more tears followed. She started shaking as she silently released her grief. Vin felt his heart go out to Nona. He scooted over to her and pulled her into his arms to comfort her.
"Shhhh.....it's okay. whatever it is, we'll fix it," he said, a feeling of protectiveness for her growing inside of him.
Nona lay with her head in Vin lap long after her tears had subsided. She stared into the fire physically and emotionally spent. as she drifted to sleep, she made a decision.
Yes....she would be a symbol for her tribe. a symbol of justice.....and vengeance would be her's.
Vin could tell Nona was sleeping by her even breathing. Her looked at her as he stroked her hair, wondering what had brought on this sudden change. He didn't know. But he did know he never wanted to see her cry again.
It was strange, Vin thought, to have formed such a strong attachment to her so quickly. But it was almost like looking into himself when he looked at Nona. There was a kinship, a likeness of souls between them. He had noticed it when he had been teaching her the basics of tracking.
Vin sighed and looked down at the sleeping girl. He smiled with pride at the fact that she felt completely safe in his care. He then carefully picked her up and carried her back to her tent, silently slipping inside. He glanced at Chumani as he tucked Nona into her sleeping roll.
Vin knew Chumani was wary of him. He looked down at Nona, then
back to Chumani...a thought coming to him.
The attack had come fifteen years ago.....the same age Nona was. Vin shuddered with his realization. He protectively smoothed back Nona's hair.
She musta found out, he thought as he gazed tenderly at her, feeling his heart melt. He pulled his hand away, and stealing one last look, turned and quietly left the tent.
Nona opened her eyes after Vin had gone. She rolled over and began making her plans.
Two months later
The ground was covered by a soft blanket of the season's first snow. Vin poked his head out of the tent he shared with Kohana. He breathed deeply of the crisp air as he stepped out into the morning.
He smiled and exchanged a few words with members of the tribe who were up and moving about. He grinned at the children playing in the new fallen snow as he made his way to Chumani and Nona's dwelling.
Vin had decided to give Nona her first lesson on how to track in the
snow when he had discovered the weather this morning. He had already
begun teaching Nona the basics on tracking and now hunting as well.
It didn't matter to him that she was a girl. Nona was smart and an
excellent student. She was quick to catch on and was learning as
fast as Vin could teach her.
Not to mention, Nona was pure joy to be around. Although there were times since the hunt that he could tell she was lost in thought, a sullen look darkening her features.
Nona hadn't told Vin about what had upset her the night she had cried by the fire, and he hadn't seen her cry since. She seemed a little tougher now. Not mean, but almost as if she were resolved to something. But as quickly as the look would come, it would vanish and Nona would once again be her wild and charming self.
Vin had to admit she had won his heart and there was nothing he would refuse her. He had never had a little sister to look after, but now he felt as if he did. And he really enjoyed the role of Big Brother as well.
Vin stopped as he came to Nona and Chumani's tent and scratched on the door flap. He waited until he heard Chumani's voice then entered. Chumani nodded a greeting as he stepped through the tent's opening.
"Back so soon?" she asked, handing Vin a cup of tea.
Vin looked at her a bit funny as he took the cup, wondering what she meant.
"Uh...no Ma'am. I came to see if Nona wanted to go trackin'. I was gonna show her some things about trackin' in the snow." Vin said as he took a drink from the cup. Chumani frowned.
"Nona was gone when I awoke. I assumed she was with you." Chumani said.
Vin handed his cup to Chumani and quickly left in search of Kohana.
It's nothin', he thought to himself as he hurried back to his and Kohana's tent. She probably just went hunting.
Although Vin told himself there was nothing to worry about, that Nona was fine, he couldn't shake the feeling that she was in trouble.
A small group of men were gathered in front of Vin and Kohana's tent planning the search for Nona. After Vin had left, Chumani had discovered many of her things missing, as if she had packed for a long journey. Chumani had come to Vin frantic saying that Nona was gone and had told him what she had discovered.
Chumani's words had spurred Vin into action. He and Kohana had quickly put together a search party.
"I think it's best if we split up," Vin said taking charge of the situation.
The others nodded their agreement. Vin told them which way he
would be going, then indicated to the others the directions that also needed
to be covered. With that decided, each man mounted his horse and
set out in search of the missing girl.
Vin was the last to mount, and as he turned in the direction he was certain Nona had gone, he noticed Chumani approaching him.
"Vin," she said a pleading tone to her voice "Bring her back to me safely."
Vin nodded, and with a tip of his hat galloped off.
Damn! he thought as he rode watching the ground for signs of Nona's passing. He knew Nona was up to something, and he was afraid he might know what that was. He knew her better than anyone else in the village, save Chumani, and he cursed himself for not picking up on the signals.
He just hoped he could get to her before something happened.
She had decided the night she had cried at the fire that she would avenge
her people for the wrong done to them. And the only way she could
do this would be to hunt down the men responsible for the massacre and
kill them swiftly. All except one.
She would find the man with eyes to match her's and kill him slowly, making him pay for what he had done.
Suddenly Nona's feet encountered a slick spot and she fell heavily to
the ground. She frowned at the sound that accompanied her fall.
It wasn't the muffled soft sound of something hitting earth. But
rather a sharp crack. Nona looked at her surroundings then froze
as she realized where she was. She sat completely still, listening
for the sound that could only mean her death.
It came softly at first, then a bit louder.
Nona carefully rose to her hands and knees trying to distribute her weight over the cracking ice. She shook with fear as she slowly inched her hand forward. She stopped, listening intently. The air around her was completely still as Nona again inched her hand forward.
Suddenly the ice gave way, and Nona crashed through into the freezing water of the lake. She began sinking, weighted down by her pack. She fumbled underwater trying to untie the cords that secured it to her back. She finally reached for her knife and cut the bindings then struggled upward.
Nona broke the surface of the water with a loud gasp. She tried to grip the edge of the ice but found no purchase, her hands sliding from the wet ice. She kicked her feet trying to keep her head above water as she frantically clawed at the ice trying to pull herself from the icy grip of the lake.
The edge Nona clung to snapped off in her hands and she once again slipped beneath the surface, involuntarily swallowing a mouth full of the freezing water. She came up choking for air as she gripped the edge of the broken ice again.
Nona ceased her struggles, trying to catch her breath. but she knew she couldn't rest, although she suddenly felt very tired. Her arms felt heavy, like they were weighted down with rocks. And from her waist down was quickly becoming completely useless ass the cold quickly robbed her of all sensations.
Slowly, Nona inched her arm onto the ice, pulling with all of her strength trying once more to drag herself from the water. But it was no use. the freezing temperature of the lake had robbed her of her strength.
Nona laid her head on the edge of the ice, thinking how tired she was. She would rest a moment. Yes, after she rested she would be able to pull herself from the hole.
Nona's eyes fluttered, then closed.
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